Soft Plastic Waste

You know how when you’re shopping for a car and you’ve honed in on a particular model…let’s say it’s a Prius? All of a sudden, you start seeing tons of Priuses on the road? That’s because now you’re looking for them! That kind of describes my experience with recycling.

The more I look for recycling options, the more options I find — all readily available in my community. I’ll bet you have a lot, too.

Soft Plastic Doesn’t Belong in our Trash or Home Recycle Bins

Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about soft plastic or what the waste industry calls “film.” Stay with me for a riveting look (ahem) at how to recycle it responsibly — because this stuff doesn’t belong in our home recycling bins. It also makes a lot of sense to keep it out of our regular trash bins, too.

Recycling soft plastic is an easy way to show some love for the planet and leave it a better place for future generations.

What is Soft Plastic or Film?

Plastic film is soft, flexible polyethylene (PE) packaging. You’ll find it in bags for groceries, bread, dry-cleaning, newspapers and zip-top storage bags. It’s also the wrap around many products including paper plates, napkins, bathroom tissue, diapers, and more. Plastic cereal box liners (as long as they don’t tear like paper) are also considered film. You can print this handy graphic and post it on your fridge as a guide.

How to Recycle Plastic Logo

Any film packaging or bag that has the How2recycle logo shown at left qualifies for drop-off recycling. Not all eligible products display the logo.

What Happens to Plastic Film When We Don’t Recycle it Responsibly?

If you toss soft plastic film in your curbside recycling bin — it could end up gunking up industrial recycling machines. They’re just not designed to handle it. They also don’t have a means to recycle it, i.e, to turn it into something useful.

If you toss it in your regular trash — soft plastic film ends up in the landfill, of course, and becomes part of our very large plastic waste issue which takes years and years to break down.

How to Recycle Soft Plastic

  • Collect It > Once you know what it is, set aside a spot in your home to save your soft plastic waste. I’m planning to use a bag on a hook in our pantry and just stuff it in there. (All plastic should be clean and dry. Be sure to check below for basic guidelines about what’s not accepted.)
  • Find a Drop-off Spot Near You > There are over 18,000 drop-off sites in the U.S. To locate one near you, hit the “Click to Find” button below, scroll down and enter your zip code (mid-page). Alternatively, visit this page.

Types of Plastic Not Allowed in Soft Plastic Collection Bins

When recycling plastic film, please note that your own drop-off site may have different guidelines. Some sites also changed their practices due to Covid-19 — so be sure to check. In general, you shouldn’t drop off the following:

  • Degradable/compostable bags or film packaging
  • Pre-washed salad mix bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Candy bar wrappers
  • Chip bags
  • Six-pack rings

Benefits of Recycling Soft Plastic Waste

  • Our city charges us for curbside pick-up trash bags. By reducing the amount of plastic we add to our bins, we’re saving money on trash bags.
  • Soft plastic film gets a second life and is recycled into useful items such as composite lumber for making decks, benches, and playground sets. It can also be reprocessed into small pellets, which can be made into new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe. It feels good to know our soft plastic is not destined for a landfill after just a single use.
Package of Paper Towels

To Sum Up

Each one of us handles an average of about 250 pounds of soft plastic waste each year. If we commit to recycling it responsibly, we can have a positive impact on the planet. Think of it this way — almost any type of plastic you can easily crinkle with one hand qualifies for this special recycling.

We just need to set aside a spot in our homes to save it and then locate a drop-off site. Be sure to double-check at your site to see which type of waste is allowed. For most of us…soft plastic recycling is available right at our local grocery store. How convenient!

One Final Note: It’s challenging to start a new habit (and add one more thing to our “to do” list). Apart from that, I wonder if my husband will get on board with separating our plastic? Will we remember to bring it to the grocery store each week or will it become a messy pile in our pantry? When I think of the benefits, however, I’m hopeful we’ll handle these small hurdles and that recycling soft plastic will become second nature to us.

Now that I’ve learned about soft plastic film, I’m seeing it everywhere — just like those Priuses! How about you? Have you been recycling soft plastic all along or do you plan to get started? What are some of the hurdles for you?

I am not a licensed nutritionist, medical professional or cosmetics expert. The information provided on Honest + Simple is for general informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food + Drug Administration and are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Before making decisions about your health or other concerns, please consult a qualified professional and do not rely on this website for medical advice.

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  1. I really appreciate learning about soft plastic recycling and I have to say that this has been one of the easiest planet healthy habits for us to employ. I am more successful with this than I am in remembering to bring in my own bags to the grocery store (but we are improving on that also)!
    Thanks for the information and the links.

    1. Hi Claire,
      Good to hear that you found this helpful and are recycling your soft plastic now. It took us a little while, but now we’re in the habit, too. I had no idea this was even a thing until recently. I really believe every little bit makes a difference!

  2. I find no where to recycle bread bags, amazon mailers, clean zip lock bags, etc etc. All the unmarked soft plastic.
    Any help?

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