Mar. 21—Dear Tee Cee,
I have a question about the plastic bag recycling program at the Waste Diversion Center and at grocery stores, etc. I have some different kinds of bags that I'm not sure are recyclable, including little bags that are for dog snacks. They are black on the outside and gray on the inside. I also get a lot of food like granola and nuts that are packaged in bags that feel thicker than, say a plastic grocery bag. Are those OK for the bag recycling program?
Thanks for asking before including those bags, both of which are not recyclable and are among the biggest contaminants in plastic bag recycling programs. The bag programs at the Waste Diversion Center, the Eco-Cycle CHaRM and at participating grocery stores are all specifically for No. 2 and No. 4 bags. Not all bags are going to have that number printed on them, so here's how you can tell if your bag is a recycling winner for plastic bag drop-off programs:
Recyclable through drop-off bag programs: Plastic grocery bags, bread bags (with any internal cellophane wrapping thrown away), produce bags, newspaper bags, garment, etc., will all qualify for recycling at the Longmont Waste Diversion Center at 140 Martin St. and other programs. The requirement at all locations is that they be clean (no bread crumbs, etc.), dry, and empty (no receipts, etc.).
Note: Plastic bags are not recyclable in single-stream recycling carts.
Take the plastic bag recycling test: If you can't find a number on the plastic bag, which is very often the case, there's a quick test you can use to determine a bag's recyclability: Tear the bag. If the edges of the tear are serrated, or wavy, it's something we can recycle. If it rips along a very straight, clean line, it is trash. If that seems too complicated, just stick with the bag types listed in the "recyclable" category above.
Trash: None of these programs can accept the plastic pouches you describe and that are typically used for things like prepacked foods (like your granola, dried fruit, etc.) and pet treats. As you point out, these bags have a different feel to them; they feel thicker or stiffer. Any time you see even one of the following characteristics — different-colored layers, pleats on the bottom, thickness or stiffness to stand up on a grocery shelf — it indicates it isn't a bag, but a "pouch," which cannot be recycled at this point.
"Pouch or bag, who cares, what's the difference?" The difference is that pouches are using different plastic resins from the recyclable bags, and often more than one resin type is used to create that stiffer "pouch" characteristic. Multiple resins create a significant recycling challenge since they cannot easily be separated from each other. Eco-Cycle and other recyclers are working with the pet food industry to examine different packaging choices or recycling options for these bags, but for now, the pouches have to either be reused or trashed.
When these pouches end up in the plastic bag program, our staffers need to pull them out by hand and landfill them. In programs where this quality control is not part of their process, too many pouches in the mix may cause the bag recycler to landfill the whole lot. So thank you for asking and for keeping these pouches out of your plastic bag recycling!
Have Zero Waste questions? Rosie@ecocycle.org has the answers.