The Final Word On Plastic Bag Recycling

We get a lot of questions about plastic bags - questions about whether a certain size, shape, or color of plastic bag might be recyclable.  The short answer is 'no'.  And there's no getting around it.  

Plastic bags of all shapes, sizes and colors are not accepted in  Chicago's blue recycling cart. Most recycling facilities just aren't equipped to sort plastic bags and other soft plastics. 

Soft plastic? Hard no.

Dry cleaner bags, plastic envelopes, and plastic wrap are not accepted either, regardless of what the packaging may state.

A simple recycling rule to remember: Soft plastic? Hard no.

Soft plastics aren’t recyclable in from home because they’re difficult to sort out from the other recyclable items, like cardboard, paper, and plastic containers. They cling to other recyclables and wrap around sorting equipment at the recycling facility which is dangerous for workers and costly for the program.

Why do so-called 'Recycling' plastic bags exist?

Multi-floor commercial buildings often use blue recycling bags because it can be most efficient to collect trash and recycling bags together in one cart.  Then down at the dumpsters, the bags of recycling are easy to identify from regular trash, and are then tossed into the recycling container. 

Some municipalities, including NYC, require recycling to be collected in transparent plastic 'recycling' bags when recycling bins or dumpsters aren't available. 

Recycle plastic bags and other soft plastics at local retailers

Because soft plastics are difficult to sort out of the household recycling stream, many local retailers provide access to free, drop-off recycling programs.  Fresh Thyme Markets, Jewel-Osco, Kohl's,  and Mariano’s all participate; look for the Plastic Bag Recycling bins located near the front doors.

Generally, these recycling programs accept all clean bags and wrap made from #2 or #4 plastic film. They do not accept: stretchy food wrap, frozen food bags, cellophane, or pre-washed salad bags because of incompatible chemical make-ups. 

Also  accepted in Plastic Bag Recycling Programs at local stores:

  1. BUBBLE WRAP - Popped or not, recycle it.

  2. PLASTIC MAILERS - Cut off paper labels.

  3. PLASTIC SHIPPING BAGS - Cut off paper labels. 

  4. AIR PILLOWS - Pop them to save space. 

  5. SANDWICH BAGS - Plastic zippers bags are okay too.

  6. DRY CLEANER BAGS - Remove paper, hangers, etc.

Important caveat

Make sure you're only recycling soft plastics - without any junk inside. Before dropping off your bundle, open the bags to check for lingering paper receipts, shake out crumbs, and cut off paper shipping labels. 

For these free recycling programs to remain sustainable, the plastic wrap we contribute needs to be clean. 



Stay informed.

Get notified about updates to your city's recycling program.

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