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What Happens to Recycled Plastic Bags?

By K T Solis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Recycled plastic bags are used in grocery stores on a daily basis, and consumers tote them home filled to the brim with produce, canned goods, bread, and other household staples. Most people don't stop to think what happens to the bags once they are taken to a recycling center. The majority of recycled plastic bags are turned into composite lumber. Composite lumber is generally comprised of two equal substances: sawdust and plastic bags.

The lumber made from these two recycled substances is used for a variety of items. Wooden structures like door frames, window frames, and outdoor decks are just a few of the construction projects that use lumber made from recycled plastic bags. Recycled plastic bags are also used to make post-consumer resin. This resin is utilized in the production of new plastic bags, crates, pipes, pallets, and containers.

Recycling stations can be found in most communities in the U.S. Many grocery stores have an area designated for this purpose. No matter where consumers drop off their bags, only clean recycled plastic bags should be taken to the local recycling center. Food, saran wrap, prepackaged food bags, or receipts should never be left inside a bag destined for recycling.

When a recycling center begins the recycling process, it melts down the plastic. Next, the plastic is forced through an extruder, a machine that squeezes the plastic into long noodle-like shapes or small pieces. The extruder die molds the plastic before it is cut with a knife. Finally, the plastic exists in the form of composite lumber or tiny pellets that can be manufactured into other plastic items.

Recycling plastic bags helps the environment in several ways. Since plastic bags are not biodegradable, they remain for a very long time and can release chemicals, contaminating water and soil. Ensuring that all plastic bags are recycled helps to alleviate this problem. Chemicals are used in the production of plastic which pollutes air, water and food. Using fewer plastic bags also means that humans and animals will be less exposed to chemicals.

At times, plastic bags make their way to the ocean and marine animals eat them, thinking they are food. Some marine animals may even become entangled in the plastic bags. In short, taking plastic bags to the recycling center can help save the lives of animals living in or around the ocean.

People who want to protect the environment can make a conscious decision to use fewer plastic bags. For example, plastic bags can be recycled in the home. Some people use them to line trash cans or to carry their lunch to work and school. Pet owners often use them to pick up pet waste as well.

AboutMechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1003612 — On Jul 31, 2020

If plastic can be recycled, why does so much of it end up in the ocean?!

By anon989058 — On Feb 17, 2015

Actually plastic bags do not need to be recycled as plastics, they can be burned thus recycling the energy contained within. This would save a lot of labor in sorting the plastic products. That this releases dioxins is a myth.

By anon88652 — On Jun 06, 2010

Because it is convenient. There is no real reason to use them. Plastic can be converted into other plastic materials, but once created, it never actually goes away. Virgin (new) plastics continue to be manufactured and we continue to buy them. Very sad. Use glass and paper. It is recyclable.

By anon37506 — On Jul 20, 2009

I enjoyed the information about plastic bags. My question is "If plastic bags are so bad for the environment, why do we use plastic garbage bags?"

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