Ways to Recycle and Reuse Plastic Grocery Bags

Just a fraction of the plastic bags produced in the United States end up getting properly recycled. Here are some ways you can reuse and recycle the film plastic in your home.

Plastic grocery bags were first introduced in U.S. stores in 1977. By 2018 — 41 years later — the Environmental Protection Agency estimated about 4.2 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were generated in the U.S. alone. Alarmingly, the EPA also estimates that just ten percent of that plastic was recycled.

Because so few people recycle them, every year millions of tons of plastic bags are produced, used once and disposed of. Now our oceans are littered with plastic, posing a serious danger to ocean life. And our landfills are overstuffed with bags that will take more than 500 years to decompose naturally.

But there are plenty of ways people can reuse, repurpose and recycle plastic grocery bags in ways that don’t clog up our environment. Here’s how to recycle plastic bags in your area, along with some ways to reuse them around the house.

How to Recycle Plastic Bags

Of course, the best thing you can do with plastic bags is to have them professionally recycled. Unfortunately, the type of plastic grocery bags are made of isn’t accepted in standard curbside recycling systems.

Instead, you’ll have to take them to plastic film recycling dropoffs, typically found in retail centers and — fittingly — grocery stores. Search this database to find plastic film dropoffs in your area.

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Ways to Reuse Plastic Bags

Besides recycling, the best thing for the environment would be to avoid single-use plastics altogether. That’s not a realistic goal — at least not yet. In the meantime, here are some things you can do with all the plastic grocery bags laying around your home.

Lining Small Trash Bins

Make taking out the trash easier by lining the small wastepaper baskets in your home with plastic grocery bags. When it’s full, empty the bag into a larger trash bin instead of throwing it away altogether. That would defeat the purpose of “reusing” the bag.

Packing Material for Moving Boxes

Old plastic grocery bags make a great substitute for packing peanuts, whether you’re loading up boxes of old stuff to put in storage or sending a Care package halfway across the country.

Wrap Shoes in Luggage

Want to pack your shoes with the rest of your clothes without getting anything dirty? Wrap the shoes in plastic grocery bags and slide them into your suitcase.

Doggie Bags

Instead of buying plastic bags for cleaning up your pet’s messes, why not just reuse the plastic bags you have? Tie a couple to the handle of your dog leash, so on long walks you’ll always have a way to pick up after your dog.

Harrison Kral
After spending his college summers pouring concrete and building decks, Harrison Kral decided to find a way to put his insider knowledge of construction to use…. just in an air-conditioned setting. He’s an established writer and editor in the DIY space who has written extensively on the home building industry, the housing market, and general DIY trends.