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Plastic Bags. Are they recyclable?

Our Hotline Assistant Barbara Lopez breaks down plastic bag recycling. BLopez_team

Did you know that San Diego uses 500 million plastic bags every year? And what’s even more shocking…less than 3% of plastic bags are recycled in California. While there are lots of discussions regarding plastic bag bans and ordinances, until we can cut down on our plastic bag usage, let’s talk more about recycling them!

Plastic bag usage

Some background about bans:

There has been much debate recently, both locally and at the state level, regarding plastic bag bans. At the state level, State Senator Alex Padilla is looking to reintroduce legislation that would keep grocery stores and pharmacies from providing customers with single-use plastic bags by July 1, 2015. If this legislation passes, it would make California the first state in the country to ban plastic bags. Locally, San Diego City Council is also looking to vote on a citywide single use plastic bag ordinance later this year. Supporters of such bills argue too many plastic bags end up as litter or take up space in landfills since few of them are recycled. Of the 14 billion plastic bags that Californians use per year, very few of those are actually recycled. Instead, they end up in landfills or as litter on the side of roads and on beaches! But that isn’t to say that there is no market out there for plastic bags.

The skinny on recycling plastic bags:

Many of you may already know that plastic bags do not belong in our curbside recycling. However, we are often asked why we can’t simply put plastic bags in our bins at home. The answer: recycling facilities are set up to separate rigid plastics from other recyclables- paper, aluminum cans, and glass. Current recycling machinery is just not set up to sort plastic bags and film; they would just get tangled in the equipment.

Although plastic bags cannot be placed in curbside recycling bins, they can be recycled. Many grocery stores collect plastic bags, usually placing bins near the front entrance of the store. In fact, many of these stores also take other types of plastic film, such as produce bags and plastic packaging film. Returned plastic bags are then sent to a recycling processor and are turned into different plastic products such as composite lumber, pallets, crates, and pipes.


If you need help finding a location to take your plastic bags, check out our handy recycling database,!



  1. I’ve been recycling custom plastics bags from grocery and every time I shop. Just use plastics bags in a proper way and never burn them it can’t damage the earth.

  2. Thank-you for your information on plastic bags. With all of these bags ending up in the landfill, we are polluting our earth, when instead these bags can be made into other materials i.e. containers, park bench’s, and when mixed with wood, non-decomposing decking for your home. Even your home’s siding could be made by this method. Many cities will not accept plastic bags in the curbside recycling bins. Officials say it is not cost effective, and that it clogs up their machinery. Forward thinking Seattlites have been recycling their plastic bags curbside for years. By simply putting all of your clean bags into one bag, (you can get at least twenty into one ) when it’s full tie a knot at the top, using the handles of the bag. What I use to do was put my “catchall bag” handles on a doorknob, and leave it there, making this a plastic bag depository. People generally take the easier route, while someone may not remember to take the bags somewhere to be recycled, they are more likely to use this avenue as it is easier. I). It is now confined and easy to separate from other recyclable’s, therefore making them less likely to gum up the gear at the recycling

    2) It now has some heft to it, making it less likely to blow out of the truck, or anyplace else.

    3), By recycling more products, we end up with less garbage, create new jobs, and less litter.

    Has anyone in the hierarchy of the government in San Diego County looked into how this is working out for Seattle ? I would imagine that the person who looked into this and helped change this process, would not only get exposure, but gratitude from a lot of citizens. I have heard many people complain about this wasteful way of doing things.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this
    Jay Roberts, Vista, CA. .

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Jay! We can definitely relate. As much as we try to minimize our use of plastic bags, even our office occasionally ends up with a “catch all bag” or what we like to refer to as “the bag of bags”. We often take turns recycling it at a nearby grocery store which works well, but you’re right, being able to recycle the bags with other recyclables would be ideal. I know that San Diego is working on a Zero Waste Plan so I’m sure there are people looking into best practices and other cities that have been successful. While ILACSD is apolitical, I would suggest getting in touch with your local city council or county supervisor. Thanks again, Jay!

  4. I think the more we talk and write about this, the more people are likely to remember or learn just how big this problem is! We actually have plastic garbage dumps in the oceans! Check out (google) what this 19 year genius from Holland has come up to clean these dumps up. What is even more fascinating is what they are doing with this mess once it is cleaned up, in Rotterdam ! Thank-you, Jay

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