What really happens to recycled plastic bags?

Have you run across fake news about recycling in your community? I was dismayed a couple of years ago to learn glass isn’t recycled here because our community can’t afford the equipment. Most glass is  crushed and used for pavement, or dumped in landfills.

I was afraid to dig into what happens to plastic, but as J.R.R. Tolkein says, “A woman [sic] who flies from her fear may find that she has only taken a short cut to meet it.”*

So, let’s investigate. This recently arrived in the mail from Amazon Prime:

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Note the promising label:

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Does anyone around here really take bubble plastic like this? Our garbage hauler/recycler, Sanipac, doesn’t.

If someone takes it, will it actually get recycled, or is this just feel-good advertising for Amazon Prime? How much time would it take for an ordinary busy person like me to find out how recycle it?

9:00 a.m.: Check the website shown on the package. how2recycle.info is a real site, and as the label on says, there are stores that accept bags with this kind of plastic, or at least say they do. Albertson’s grocery store, a  half mile from our house, is one of them.

9:15: Sure enough, a bin for plastic is prominently set near the cash registers, but the sign says: clear film plastic only. A kind and enthusiastic manager assures me if I put my Amazon Prime bag in the bin, he’ll be the one to fish it out and throw it away. They accept plastic with a bit colored print — a picture of lettuce or a couple of words, — also dry cleaning bags, clear bubble wrap, deflated “air pillows” (a substitute for bubble wrap, another favorite of Amazon Prime), zip lock baggies, and electronic wrap.

It is shipped to Portland, Oregon (100 miles north), then south to Los Angeles where it can be turned into composite lumber for making decks, benches, and playground sets. It can also be made into pellets, which can be used to make new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe. Albertsons makes money on the program. The manager escorted me outside to show off their own recycled plastic bench.

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Albertson’s bench made from recycled plastic film

He suggested I check Albertson’s parent company Safeway’s website to find out more.

9:30: Check Safeway’s website. Couldn’t find information to confirm where plastic from Eugene goes or what happens to it, but for now, let’s trust the manager.

9:40: Still hopeful about finding someone to recycle the Amazon Prime bag, so in preparation, I try to remove the paper mailing label as instructed (see above). It does not come off. Maybe someone will take it anyway.

9:50: I call around. No one is willing to take it.

10:00: Check Amazon.com plastic recycling on line. They have a cool website advertising their program to minimize customer package rage and to reduce waste. Customers are invited to ask questions and make suggestions. The  highlighted link sends me to the Amazon sign-on page and my own account, and there I get no further.

10:30: I put the bag in the car. Check around town for other possible recyclers.

A week later: No takers. Into our trash bin it goes. Hopefully it won’t end up floating around, untethered.

Bottom line: this is feel good advertising for Amazon Prime.

It’s terrific clear plastic is being recycled. We who use it should take the time to recycle it. After we drop it off though, it travels hundreds of miles to get to recycling facilities. Not optimal.

There’s a lot happening with the development of new kinds of biodegradable plastic and better ways to recycle, but none of that has reached the mass market yet. For now, it’s better and easier to cut back on plastic we don’t really need, whenever possible.

And if you find the web page where customers are allowed ask to Amazon Prime questions and make suggestions, will you send the link to me?

Coming up: The invention of plastic and the great billiard ball competition.

Featured photo credit: Mitchell Haindfield

*I took liberties with gender in this quote from The Children of Húrin.

7 comments

    • I think most people care. It’s just so dang complicated. It’s hard to know where to start, so most people just don’t start. Sensible people.

      Like

  • It’s so convenient to order things online, but the amount of packaging the items come in is a big downside for the environment, for sure. You went through quite the ordeal to try and recycle this one. Speaks well of you. Too bad it ended up having to go in your trash anyway.

    Like

    • Ha! I am more curious than moral. Maybe Amazon is telling the truth about their quest to decrease waste and make packaging sustainable. Maybe they will succeed. That would be nice. It is convenient to order on line.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Years ago, I saved glass jars up for a year (this was before I drank much wine). Needless to say, I hauled it to the local recycling center (this was before curbside pickup) and was told they don’t take it. Not long after, the news ran a feature on how many places that take glass just end up piling it into colorful mountains in landfills. Like this post, it made me think of the quantity of material that goes into our recycling bins that doesn’t really get recycled at alls. I am making headway on my reusable grocery bag efforts though.

    Like

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