Skip to main content
How to Recycle Plastic Shopping Bags

How to Recycle Plastic Shopping Bags

Plastic bags are technically recyclable, but at this stage, can only  rarely be placed in council recycling bins. Plastic bags are very difficult to separate mechanically and can do enormous damage to recycle machinery.

If you must use plastic bags, you can return them (empty and clean) to the plastic bag recycling bins at the entrance to most supermarkets.

The reality of plastic bags is that they are just plain horrible. In Australia, plastic bags have been banned in South Australia, Tasmania, ACT, Northern Territory, Queensland from 2018 and several local councils in other states have taken their own initiative to outlaw plastic bags. More and more stores like Ikea, Aldi and others will now charge you for a bag. (Including Coles and Woolworths from July 2018). 

Most Coles and Woolworths stores have plastic bag recycle bins at the front of the store. In this bin you can dispose of the above items for free.  All you need to do is remember to take your bags and soft plastics with you when you go to the supermarket. You can find a full list of the items you can drop off on REDcycle info page.

There are so many alternatives and much more attractive than those ghastly bags. There are many bags that fold up into tiny squares like Envirosax that you can leave in your handbag or briefcase. Always leave a couple of shopping bags in the boot of your car or simply grab a bag and put it in your pocket when you are going to the supermarket. 

What kind of bag is the best to replace plastic bags with? Use anything reusable and durable. All alternatives have pros and cons when considering environmental impact so go with the type that suits your style and life.

Something incorrect here? Suggest an update below:
Science Notes
Single use plastic bags - at least the light weight supermarket kind are banned across Australia from July 2018.

You can return bags to the soft plastic recycle bin at Coles, Woolworths and Aldi. 

On average, a plastic shopping bag is used for only a few minutes. That’s it. After that, it takes somewhere between 2 and 1000 years to break down, dependent upon who you believe.

We are using less plastic bags that we used to, but most of the six billion plastic bags used annually in Australia still end up in landfill – that’s a big growing pile of plastic for a lot of years. 

Plastic bags in drains are far more dangerous than many people realise. They were actually banned in Bangladesh in 2002 after having been identified as major factors in the 1988 and 1998 flood. 

Many plastic bags are particularly bad in water as they do not break down. When they end up in waterways and the ocean the kill and wreak havoc with aquatic life. Plastic bags are serial killers as while the animals they kill decomposes, the bag does not and goes on to offend again.
Related Tip
Never ever put recycling material into plastic bags when you place it in your recycle bin.

Be aware of biodegradable and degradable plastic bags which may not be as green as they seem. Biodegradable bags are typically made from things like corn and are technically compostable, but unless you have a compost bin, often the very organisms required to break them down cannot survive in oxygen depleted landfill environments so the degradation process is extremely slow and they convert to methane. 

Other degradable (or oxodegradable) bags are made from oil and gas and typically require sun, light and heat to begin the process of degradation. If you are offered a ‘green’ plastic bag, it’s best to refuse and take a reusable one or none at all.