Recycling flexible packaging is a relatively simple process but well worth the effort considering the alternative end result. The impact of preventing these materials from ending up in a landfill and prolonging their life cycle is substantial and helps contribute to reducing global waste. One caveat is that flexible packaging cannot be combined with other recyclables in a curbside bin used for other household papers and plastics. The current recycling program operating in the United States stipulates that these materials be dropped off at specific locations where they can be collected to then be reused.
Step 1: Know what flexible packaging is and is not recyclable
Approximately 50% of flexible packaging in the U.S. is recyclable, so it is crucial to be able to differentiate between which items are and are not admissible for store drop-off. Flexible plastics made of polyethylene are recyclable, including grocery and produce bags, bread bags, and more. Some packaging that should not be included are biodegradable or compostable bags, pre-washed salad mix bags, and candy wrappers.
The easiest way to tell if a product is eligible for recycling is by checking the label, which will be detailed further in step 2. Additionally, the infographic below provides some examples of common items that are included in the store drop-off program and which ones are not. For further information, a helpful resource to learn what is recyclable can be found here.
Step 2: Locate the How2Recycle label on your flexible packaging with recycling instructions
The How2Recycle label is a standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public. They are easily found on packaging items and provide consistent and transparent on-package recycling information to consumers.
These labels contain multiple sections to provide the most complete recycling information. The top box gives instructions on how to prepare the material to ensure the proper steps are taken to effectively recycle the item. Flexible packaging will have “Store Drop-off” written in the center of the recycling symbol. The following sections describe the type of recyclable material and list the recyclable parts of the packaging.
Step 3: Visit http://how2recycle.info/sdo for a Store Drop-Off location near you
Simply visit the website above, and you will be asked to enter your zip code. Once entered, you will be provided with a list of available drop-off locations sorted by closest distance with their associated addresses. Fortunately, over 18,000 locations across the U.S. and Canada collect flexible packaging for recycling, so there is a high chance there is a drop-off location convenient to you. Many of these locations are places you already regularly visit, like grocery stores, pharmacies, big box stores, and home improvement chains.
Step 4: Look for the plastic film recycling bin at your local store
Once at your local grocery or retail store, you will see a specified disposal bin labeled for bags, films, and wraps. These recycling bins are typically located at the front of the store for your convenience. A handy trick is to have a reusable shopping tote at home to collect all of your flexible packaging materials, and then when you head to the store, simply grab the tote, deposit the flexible packaging, shop for your groceries, and then use the tote to bring your groceries home. This strategy ensures that all flexible packaging is collected in one place and prevents you from forgetting them at home.
Up next: What happens to your flexible packaging after you drop it off at the store? Check back for our next post, in which we will discuss how these recycled materials benefit consumers, businesses, and the environment after you drop them off!