Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Recycling soft plastic

We're about to put out our first trash can of the year, probably next week. By this point in our frugal garbage-reduction path through life, the vast majority of stuff in our trash can is soft plastics: hot-dog wrapping (who is buying something as crazy as hot dogs?), other food wrapping, plastic sleeves that come around magazines, etc. There's a bit of random other stuff, too (a TurboTax CD from 2009 which I'm guessing we don't need any more, a pair of shoes that Prewash used as chew toys, bubble-wrap envelopes from books my husband ordered, blah blah blah), but mostly my garbage can is a casserole of soft plastic.

Which makes it sort of ironic that I got this email question about recycling soft plastic. It came from a nearby person who reads my blog and volunteers at ESL classes with my husband, but who is more-and-more becoming a friend and idea-sharer of mine. This person wrote:
Hello my sage, guru of recycling! 
I hope this finds you well!  I've heard conflicting answers, both online and with friends, about whether soft plastics can be recycled (plastic bags from frozen peas, for example, windows from pasta boxes, etc).  One says that they are close enough to grocery bag plastic to be tossed into the bins at grocery stores.  Others say they aren't close enough and could cause harm to the machines.  What say you? 
The Grasshopper
I have been assuming the answer was a hard-and-fast "no", but clearly, it's time for me to step up my game one notch.  I decided to do a bit of research.  (Okay, and by "research", I mean "clicking through a bunch of links").   I started with my local garbage agency, which (as I correctly suspected) does NOT recycle soft plastic.

But, I learned that my grocery stores DO, at least somewhat.   Here's what I wrote back to my grasshopper friend:
Okay, the answer is "yes and no". 
When I go to the Lancaster Solid Waste Management Authority page, []. That page notes they don't recycle soft plastic at their facility, but other places might. Then they say that for odd recycling (like soft plastics), to go look at "earth911". I clicked around there, and came to this page: 
This has a little drop-down menu that displays the following information for things you could recycle at those grocery-store collection sites:
Please DO recycle:
  • Grocery & retail bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • The outer Wrapping from Napkins, Paper Towels, Bathroom Tissue & Diapers
  • Bread bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • The outer wrapping from bulk beverages
  • Produce bags
  • All clean, dry bags Labeled #2 or #4

Please DO NOT recycle:
  • Food or cling wrap
  • Prepackaged food bags (including frozen food bags and pre-washed salad bags)
  • Plastic Film That has Been Painted or has Excessive Glue Residue

So, frozen pea bags, no.  Bread bags, and magazine wrappers, yes.  It's time to make a sign with this info (on "pre-cycled" paper, naturally) and place it near our little trash can  and recycle bins.    Maybe I can reduce our landfill-directed garbage even further.

Thanks, grasshopper!


  1. Holy Cow....Hope your info is incorrect. In our "neck of the woods" the grocery store collects plastic bags in containers in front of the store. These bags are then taken to a facility where they are "processed" and made into park benches that are donated to area communities. My understanding was/is that as long as the plastic was not rigid it could be used. In addition, I seem to remember an article not so long ago that detailed how our plastic refuse is transformed into that "pricey" plastic deck lumber folks buy at Lowes and Home Depot. Thanks for the tmely blog.

    1. I think you've indirectly put your finger on one of the barriers to recycling: local rules vary from place to place, and usually aren't well-described. (The site that I linked to is a national site, which almost certainly doesn't match what your woods'-neck. As a result, many people don't even bother to recycle because the rules are too confusing to follow; some people bother, but don't realize there are things the could be recycling that they're not (like me), and other people attempt to recycle stuff they shouldn't.

      At any rate, going back to your first sentence: I hope my info is incorrect in your case, too.

  2. With those bubble wrap envelopes, does he open them in a salvageable way? If yes, pull off the labels too and offer them up for free on craigslist once you get a box. I used to sell on eBay, and I would use reused bubble wrap envelopes. I saved them from all sorts of places. I still have a big bin of them -- I haven't paid for one in ages despite sending packages fairly frequently.

    We do save soft plastics (unfortunately get plenty due to our diapering decisions, buying bread, etc) and take a giant bag to the grocery store on occasion. It is quite gratifying!

    1. Craigslist (and Freecycle) sounds like an excellent idea. I have some plastic poppy paper that I've been sort of saving for our "Creative ReUse" place, but Freecycle is probably a more efficient way to get it back into circulation quickly. Thanks for the suggestion!