Cereal is a favorite morning (and middle of the night) meal for many. But don’t be wasteful! Learn how to recycle and reuse cereal boxes and bags.

cereal.jpg I have two-year-old twin girls, so we go through a lot of cereal at my house. When they were tiny, my kiddos were addicted to Cheerios. Right now the blue Rice Krispies box is what makes them scream with joy. Cereal boxes are easy to recycle, but what about the bags inside the boxes that keep the cereal fresh? And what about the plastic bags that hold generic cereal? Can they be recycled? In most cases, the answer is yes. Cereal bags are made with a fairly easy-to-recycle type of plastic. Depending on where you live, you can probably recycle your cereal bags in the same place you recycle plastic shopping bags and dry cleaning bags. You may also be able to return your cereal bags to a recycler through the mail.

How to recycle cereal boxes

Cereal boxes are made of lightweight cardboard that is very easy to recycle. You should be able to recycle your cereal boxes with other paper products such as newspapers, envelopes and other food boxes. Curbside recycling programs and recycling centers should all take paper products. It is a good idea to break down cereal boxes before placing them in your recycling bin. They will take up less space if they are flat, and they will go through recycling machinery more easily.

How to recycle cereal bags

Most cereal bags are made with high density polyethylene, also known as HDPE or by the recycling number 2. Known as “film” in the recycling industry, this type of plastic can be remanufactured back into plastic bags. It can also be turned into plastic bottles, lumber, pipes and a number of other products. Some curbside recycling programs will take cereal bags, plastic shopping bags and other types of film. Santa Barbara, CA, and Madison, WI, both allow residents to place plastic bags in their bins. If you live in a community that allows this, make sure you follow your recycling company’s instructions for recycling plastic bags. They often want you to stuff all your plastic bags into one bag so individual bags do not blow away in the wind or get tangled with other recyclables. Curbside plastic bag recycling programs are still relatively rare. The best place to look for a plastic bag recycler is your grocery store or other retail outlet. My local Albertsons has plastic bag recycling bins right inside the store. Many WalMart stores offer plastic bag recycling. Rhode Island has a very widespread plastic bag recycling program they call ReStore. Almost all grocery stores, big-box retailers and pharmacies have big blue bins where they collect plastic bags for recycling. Recycling company TerraCycle has teamed up with several cereal manufacturers to recycle their plastic bags. People who buy cereal made by Malt-o-Meal, Three Sisters, Bear River Valley and Sally’s can send their bags to TerraCycle through their Mom Brands Cereal Brigade. Visit its website for more details on how the program works. You will need to sign up for TerraCycle’s program, and you will need to pay the postage to ship plastic cereal bags to them. All these programs have one thing in common: Your plastic cereal bags need to be dry and contain no cereal. Make sure you empty the bag really well before sending it off for recycling. You should not wash the inside with water, but you might give it a quick wipe with a towel to remove any residual crumbs.

How to reuse cereal boxes and bags

I enjoy sewing (or at least I did before I had twins), and I sometimes traced pattern pieces for appliqué projects onto cereal boxes to create templates. The cardboard is just the right weight to make pieces that are durable and easy to use. There are many other ways to reuse old cereal boxes. A blog post on Saved by Love Creations lists 50 craft projects that use cereal boxes, including piñatas, gift bags, puzzles and desk organizers. The site Babble has 20 projects, many of which are kid-friendly. Cereal bags are less common for crafting. However, they are good-quality plastic bags, and you can continue to use them as such. Place produce in them to keep your veggies fresh in the refrigerator. Place them over the tops of bowls or other dishes, then fix them in place with a rubber band or by setting a place on top. Do you have other creative uses for cereal bags? I would love to hear about it.

Make your own cereal

You can eliminate the recycling question all together by making your own cereal. I love to make muesli, a Swiss breakfast cereal that is delicious and healthy. I start with oats or other rolled grains (such as barley or triticale) if I need some variety. I add crushed flax seeds for extra nutrients, toasted nuts and sunflower seeds for protein, and dried fruit for a little sweetness. My favorite combination is hazelnuts (the Oregon state nut, known to some as the filbert), raisins and dates. Almonds and dried apricots are delicious too. I buy all my ingredients in bulk. That means I can either reuse the plastic bags available in the bulk section or take my products home in cloth produce bags. Once everything is mixed together, I pour a bowlful of cereal and enough milk to cover all the grains. Let the cereal sit for a few minutes to soften the oats, then dig in. You can also heat the milk for a hot breakfast cereal. It is a nourishing, delicious and waste-free way to start your day.