Recycling of plastic bags

The adage “Reduce Reuse Recycle” has loomed large for decades now, but really all most of us who care about such things, even tangentially, hear is “Recycle Recycle Recycle” as we’ve been lured into thinking that we can mitigate our use of recyclable materials by doing JUST that – cutting out the ‘Reduce Reuse” portion.

For practical purposes, it is very difficult for us consumers to reduce our plastic bag consumption beyond the employment of reusable tote bags when shopping, which saves maybe 10 or so plastic shopping bags a week for a small family.

Compare that to the amount of plastic we, as consumers, never see but is nonetheless part of the products’ delivery to the store. Namely, the plastic film wrapped pallet of boxes containing the items, the plastic packing pillows or bubble wrap inside the said boxes, and the plastic bags sometimes covering the item itself – all removed before we the consumer see it on the shelf.

As our home counters become defacto shipping-and-receiving departments themselves with the Covid-accelerated online shopping experience we get a good insight into this pre-consumer sheet plastic problem first hand. How can a consumer ‘reduce’ this? It’s a real problem as is the shippers’ dilemma of reducing a basically-free packing or risk damage to the shipped item; a non-argument.

A non-starter commercially, as even clean and dry plastic bags and packing material is labor intensive to carefully retrieve, and too volumous to store. When I worked in shipping at a large store I did try and re-use as much material as I could, but was so quickly overwhelmed by the huge quantity I encountered that I was unable to store much for reuse. 

… and so to the ‘recycle’ part of the adage. The bulk of plastic sheet material (plastic bags, bubble wrap, inflated packing pillows and pallet wrap, etc all fall under this umbrella term) is recyclable if clean and sticker/label-free. The main exceptions are the more rigid plastic bag material like that found wrapping greeting cards and some package food items such as re-sealable food packaging etc.

But being recyclable and being accepted by recyclers are 2 different things, as realistically the ONLY option available is through select chain store chains (Vons, Safeway Group, Kohls, and so on) and contrary to ‘Wishcyclers5’ belief, our domestic recycling services do NOT accept plastic film in the residential blue-bin curbside pickup!

Even recycling through a store is limited as, the receptacles used by the stores range from a 50 gallon-sized box or trash can up to a 100-gallon small-wheeled tote, thus invariably aimed at small quantities brought in my shoppers, and not the larger quantities accrued by even a small retail business or company.