If you buy lots of fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store, it can be hard to make a single trip without procuring a single produce bag. These clear plastic bags make our lives easier by giving us a free option for carrying a lot of produce items without a lot of hassle.
The problem is that produce bags are made of plastic, which consumes non-renewable resources and does not biodegrade. Plastic produce bags can also be a real nuisance in the waste stream because they get caught in recycling equipment and are easily caught by the wind, meaning you will see them littering even the cleanest recycling sites.
Produce bags can be recycled – typically by taking them to the same place where you would recycle your plastic shopping bags. That can help you cut down on the guilt about using them. If you would like to cut back on the produce bags you use, we have several tips for doing that as well.
What are produce bags made of?
Produce bags, like most other types of plastic bags, are known as “film” in the recycling industry. Film is clear, thin plastic made of either high density polyethylene (HDPE or the recycling #2) or low density polyethylene (LDPE or the recycling #4) or. Most film is turned into plastic lumber or new plastic bags.
The statistics on plastic bags are staggering. According to data compiled by Reuseit
- Worldwide, people use over 1 trillion plastic bags every year
- The 100 billion plastic bags used by Americans annually requires 12 million barrels of oil
- Those 100 billion bags translate to 32 tons of plastic trash, which accounts for 12.7 percent of the stuff households throw away
- The average American family takes home 1,500 plastic bags per year
Reuseit goes on to say that only 1 in 100 plastic bags used in the United Kingdom is recycled. It stands to reason the numbers are similar (if not worse) in the United States. But film plastic is fairly easy to recycle if you can group enough of it together. As people become more aware of the need to recycle plastic bags and other plastic products, more and more opportunities to recycle film are cropping up.
How to recycle produce bags
Many communities do not allow film plastic to be recycled through their curbside recycling program. As we stated previously, film plastic is a real hassle in recycling operations because it gets caught in recycling machinery and can cause unsightly litter at recycling sites.
However, there are a few places that recycle produce bags and other plastic bags through household recycling programs. Los Angeles and Madison, Wisconsin, are a few examples. To ensure the bags cannot get tangled in recycling equipment, it is best to collect lots of plastic bags in one big bag, then tie the handles to create a large film plastic ball. Make sure the bags are clean and dry before placing them in your recycling bin.
If your community does not accept produce bags at the curb, the best place to look for a recycling program is actually your grocery store. A growing number of supermarkets have film collection bins right inside the door. Their primary purpose is to take shopping bags, but most of them also take other types of film, including produce bags and sandwich bags. Check their signage to find out exactly what they accept.
Your community’s recycling center may have a film plastic recycling receptacle as well. Check their website for details, or give them a call.
If you are still struggling to find a place to recycle produce bags, visit PlasticFilmRecycling.org
. Their website has a handy search tool you can use to find plastic recyclers. You can also use RecycleNation’s Recycle Search tool
to locate your closest produce bag recycler.
How to reuse produce bags
I reuse produce bags by bringing them back to the grocery store and using them over and over again. If I needed a bag for a large quantity of limes on one trip, I bring that bag back and load it up with potatoes the follow time. No one in a store has ever questioned this activity. In addition, I have found that sellers at farmers’ markets are very open to seeing their produce placed in other types of plastic bags, such as clean bread and tortilla bags.
If your produce bags get a little dirty, you can always wash them and use them a second time. If you do this frequently, it is definitely worth buying or making a plastic bag dryer
How to decrease your use of produce bags
Not everything you buy at the grocery store needs to go in a produce bag. I am always amazed when I see people stuffing single heads of lettuce or bunches of bananas in produce bags. There is no real reason to put single items or items that are already grouped together into a produce bag.
In fact, there is often no real reason to put even multiple items in a produce bag. Unless you buy potatoes, apples or oranges by the dozen (and perhaps you have a big family and do purchase large quantities at a time), it is really not necessary to put your food in a produce bag. It will be a little harder to get it onto the conveyer belt at the grocery store, but it is worth it to cut down on the amount of plastic you consume.
In some cases it may make more sense to put your produce items in another type of bag. For example, mushrooms should be stored in the refrigerator in paper bags, not plastic.
If you would like to avoid plastic altogether, look into reusable cloth produce bags. A simple mesh produce bag like these from Reuseit
is easy to clean and allows you to see what you are storing in your bag. If you would like to make your own produce bags, follow these instructions from The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking