Ziploc bags, aka sandwich bags or resealable plastic bags, are starting to be accepted at more recycling facilities across the nation.
The average American family uses 500 Ziploc bags every year. If all those bags are thrown away, that quickly adds up to a massive amount of plastic going into local landfills and incinerators.
The good news is that Ziploc bags are recyclable. Even better: In most communities, recycling locations are more plentiful than you might think. That means the most challenging part of recycling Ziploc bags may be getting your kids to remember to bring their empty sack lunches back home with them.
What are Ziploc bags?
Ziploc is a brand name for plastic storage bags and many other products made by SC Johnson. The term “Ziploc bag” has become a generic way of referring to any self-sealing bag that is used to store food or other items. Other common names for this product include sandwich bags, snack bags, resealable plastic bags and food storage bags.
Ziploc bags have several different kinds of closures. There is the classic “zip” version, where you press together two interlocking pieces of plastic. Newer bags may have a small tab that runs across the top of the bag to seal it closed. Those who freeze meat, fish or produce may opt for vacuum-sealed bags, which create an airtight seal and keep food extra fresh during its long, cold storage period.
Ziploc bags (and other sandwich bags) are made with a product known as “film” in the recycling industry. Film is clear, thin plastic made of either low-density polyethylene (or LDPE, which corresponds to the recycling #4) or high-density polyethylene (or HDPE, which corresponds to the recycling #2). Most film is recycled into composite lumber, a highly durable building material that is used for decks, benches and playground equipment.
The hardest thing about recycling film is keeping it in your recycling bin. Since the plastic is so lightweight it becomes airborne easily. When it flies out of trashcans and recycling bins it creates litter in neighborhoods and transfer stations — and usually ends up in the nearest dumpster.
Loose Ziploc bags and other types of film plastic often get caught in recycling machinery, damaging equipment and causing downtime at recycling centers. That is why it is very important to carefully follow your community’s guidelines for recycling film.
How to recycle Ziploc bags
Ziploc-brand bags and other sandwich bags can be recycled with other types of film plastic, including shopping bags, dry-cleaning bags and produce bags. The best place to find recycling centers for these products is your local grocery store. Many retailers offer bins right inside the door that collect film.
Not sure where your closest plastic bag recycler is located? PlasticFilmRecycling.org
has a search tool you can use. Just enter your ZIP code and it will find the nearest place to take any unwanted Ziploc bags. You can also use 1800Recycling’s recycling search tool
to find your closest plastic film recycler.
A growing number of communities do accept film plastic at the curb, although the number is honestly still pretty small. For example, San Antonio, TX, recently added plastic bag collection to its curbside program. The program requests that residents remove the “zip” portion before placing the bag in the bin. Also, all the plastic bags need to be stuffed into one bag to ensure the individual pieces stay put. The full bag should be about the size of a soccer ball.
Some cities and counties accept film plastic at their local recycling centers. Examples include Menomonie, WI, and Brielle, NJ. Check with your local solid waste district to see if it has a plastic bag collection center.
Regardless of where you take your Ziploc or other plastic bags for recycling, make sure each is clean and dry before you drop them off. That includes removing any paper or food particles that may be inside.
How to reuse Ziploc bags
If you use a lot of Ziploc bags, the cost can definitely add up. Plastic bags can be used over and over again if cared for properly. Wash bags with soap and water and set them out to dry. I would not recommend reusing bags that contained raw meat, greasy items or moldy foods.
If you plan on washing plastic bags a lot it is worth investing in a bag dryer. This simple but brilliant contraption sits on the counter and extends multiple arms that hold plastic bags open so they can drain and dry. You can find plastic bag dryers online at retailers like Amazon. You can also make one yourself from chopsticks
or old plastic clothes hangers
If you do not feel comfortable reusing Ziploc bags for food, stash household items such as toys, pens and pencils, craft supplies or travel-sized toiletries in them. That reusable zipper is handy for keeping more than food in one place.
If you want to reduce the number of Ziploc bags you buy, another option is to purchase reusable sandwich bags instead. MightyNest
makes a wide variety of cute sandwich and snack bags that can be washed and reused over and over again (no bag dryer required).