We often use plastic bags throughout the globe. We sprint to the grocery shops/stores, bring the materials in the plastic bags, and return home. No matter how significant plastics are in our day-to-day life, their unmanaged use has been a pervasive issue in today’s 21st century.

Don’t you think how plastic has created a massive problem all across the globe since they have been dumped in the ocean’s bed at the end? Can you thrive in such a world where plastic bags are dumped here and there for a prolonged period? No. 

Do not worry. Every problem does have a definite solution. The best way you can follow is the technique of recycling plastic bags. This article includes information targeting how to recycle plastic bags once used by the people. Come on. Let us take you to the plastic recycling world where you could achieve the ideas on how to recycle it at best for both us and our environment.

Plastics bags
Plastics bags | Image Credit – Flickr

Table of Contents

Shocking statistics of the plastic waste/bags (2020-2021)

  • The American Chemistry Council (ACC) data of 2018 reveals a plastic generation of 35.7 million tons in the United States, contributing 12.2 % of the municipal solid waste generation. 
  • The landfill was compiled with 27 million tons of plastics in 2018, covering 18.5 % and in the year 2017, 26.8 million tons of plastics were dumped into landfills.
  • Roughly 8 million pieces of plastics are piled up in our oceans per day. Every year the globe produces 381 million tons of plastic. Unfortunately, the rate is expected to double by the year 2034. 
  • Out of the 50 % plastic usage by people worldwide, only 9 % of the plastics have been recycled. These statistics indicate the significance of the recycling system of plastic bags in every nation so far.  
  • Plastic packaging, one of the largest culprits, has always created a pervasive issue and is of great concern. It has made us think twice before bringing plastic bags from grocery stores and other sectors. 
  • Each year the globe uses more than 500 billion plastic bags, equivalent to 150 for each person. 
  • Let us consider one example of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area equivalent to 3 times the size of France. This patch that floats between California and Hawaii comprises 8 trillion bits of plastic that weigh over 80,000 tonnes
  • Specifically, when you go towards plastic bags pollution, over 1 million plastic bags are trashed out every minute, thereby contributing to the death of 100,000 marine animals. 
  • Among 7 %, only less than 1 % of the plastic bags have been recycled. 
  • Compared to other countries, the United States is highly responsible for plastic bags pollution. 
  • Since the plastic-induced chemicals do not degrade timely, it requires 20-1000 years for complete breaking up. Therefore, the only eco-friendly strategy to end plastic pollution is to recycle plastic bags to the maximum and promote such products in the long term.

Common plastic bags

We can recycle several standard plastic bags at a maximum. These entail HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), PS, PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene), PP, and much more. Bear in mind that we cannot recycle all plastics in the same way. 

Methods for recycling the plastic bags

There is a practice of recycling plastic bags throughout the globe either by the traditional method or the advanced method. Here you go, the methods to recycle plastic bags. The methods used by us, either traditional or advanced, rely on the sophisticated equipment being available, costing, human resources, end product intended to achieve, and many more.

Mechanical/Traditional method of recycling

Shoes made out of waste plastic bags
Shoes made out of waste plastic bags | Image Credit – Pixabay

The mechanical method of recycling plastic bags is prevalent and primarily fit for recycling thermoplastic accessories /materials. This method includes melting the plastics and converting them into new plastic products through numerous processes. Among them, one process is known as injection molding.

Advanced method of recycling

How Waste Plastic is Converted into Fuel | Video Credit – Karthi Explains

It hails the process of plastic materials breaking down by the chemical effect. Such methods use the three techniques: pyrolysis, chemical recycling, and gasification. In pyrolysis, the recycling plastic wastes get converted into crude oil. 

Chemical recycling involves the reduction of a polymer into a monomer, thereby fitting as a new outcome. Geez! The plastics can be recycled and converted into gas as well. Through the process of gasification, the plastics are converted into gas. The gas is heavily used as a final gasification product to achieve energy.

Ways to recycle the plastic bags

We have hailed the comprehensive steps to let you know about the recycling guides for recycling plastic materials. 

1. Waste plastic collection

Waste plastic bag collection
Waste plastic bag collection | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

The initial step you could carry out is gathering waste plastics to a good site. Most importantly, this job is seen as an easy task, but it takes a long time and requires dramatic effort. During this stage, the waste employees visit residential and industrial areas and the public sites to collect the waste plastics. 

It is better recommended to make the specific plastic collection sites so that the plastic user can dispose of their plastics within the bounded regions. You can use the recycling bin to dump the plastic bags. It is then transferred to the collecting yard.

2. Segregation of plastics

Door to door plastic segregation
Door-to-door plastic segregation | Image Credit – Flickr

Once the plastic bags are collected, the recyclers transfer or send them to the facility center to segregate the plastics based on the types. Since the plastic contains resin content and color, they sort out the plastics aided by the recycling machine in the recycling center. 

It is of utmost necessity to sort the plastic bags during plastic bag recycling because it varies according to color, size, use, and thickness. Besides this, it permits the recyclers to know about the materials involved in the recycling process.

3. Washing the plastic bags

Washing of the plastic bags
Washing of the plastic bags | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

The recyclers wash out the materials to remove the impurities from the plastic bag. Among numerous impurities in a plastic bag, the primary one entails dirt, particles, and paper labels. Apart from this, the principal intention of washing the plastic bag is to eradicate the glues and harmful chemicals in the plastics. 

Knowing that lack of impurities removal may harm the new product is very substantial. Extensive contamination in the plastic materials may cause difficulty in recycling them further.  

4. Resizing

It is not always possible to recycle plastic bags in their original size. The further act requires resizing the plastic material for recycling. The plastic bags are kept in the shredders to reduce the plastics into smaller pieces or fragments. 

The fundamental reason behind resizing plastic bags is it aids in the identification of multiple elements, such as metal which the recyclers failed to identify during the washing porches of the recycling of the plastic bags. 

5. Shredding

Plastic shreeder
Plastic shredder | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the recycling process of plastic bags, the shredding could result in other products besides forming the plastic bags. 

6. Plastics identification and separation

Plastics identification and separation
Plastics identification and separation | Image Credit – Flickr

In this recycling phase, the recycler carries out numerous testing procedures for plastic bags. It is of dramatic significance to carry because it involves identifying the plastic bags, quality, and class. After this act, they are separated depending on their characteristics.

The vital testing processes that the recycling company adopts are testing the plastic and the air classifying of the plastic materials in the bags. 

  • Density test

In this process, the density of the plastic bags is checked out there, keeping the plastic materials in the water container for some period. 

  • Plastic materials’ air classification

In this recycling process, the thickness of the plastics is checked out, thereby keeping the plastic particles in the wind tunnel. Significantly crucial, the thinner plastic particles float while the bigger and the thicker plastics remain at the bottom of the wind tunnel. 

There are multiple reasons to carry out this phase since it is heavily used to identify the melting point of plastic. Once the identification processes are accomplished, the plastic particles go through further processing. 

7. Plastic compounding

Plastics compounding process
Plastics compounding process | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Plastic compounding is inferred as the final process for plastic bag recycling. Here is a transformation of the plastic materials into the required materials the manufacturer could wish. During this stage, creating the pellets or complete smashing and melting the plastic particles are regularly carried on, often known as ‘extrusion.’ 

Noteworthy to mention, it is impossible to transform all the plastic bags to their original because the plastic recycling company cannot handle the process of processing all the identified plastic types and their quality.

When the pellet processing is initiated at maximum, the plastic bags get recycled and are safe for the next period. This step is considered time-consuming and requires colossal energy. The recycler enjoys this step once they get new plastic materials as a final product or the version the eco-friendly users use. They promote it for a safer environment for a prolonged period. 

Rapid way of recycling the plastic bags

Primary plastic recycling process
Primary plastic recycling process | Image Credit – ACC Machine

The other quickest way to recycle the plastic bag involves removing all the receipts, crumps, tags, etc. They are a burden to the recycling process because of their load. You can keep one large garbage bag for all the bags. As you are aware, plastic bags can be compact with ease. You could fit around 50 to 100 plastic bags in a single garbage bag. 

Compacting the plastic bags reduces the volume of the waste and, of course, the garbage sites. These bags are taken to the recycling center by either the waste collectors or the employees. The best way to keep the plastic known to the users is by symbolizing the plastic. 

For instance: you can put #1 or #2, name, or anything else that could make you understand what type of the plastic bag is and how is its quality to reuse it again. It permits you to know from what plastic resin the bag has been produced in the factory. 

It lets you reuse them again instead of trashing them in the ocean as the final piling destinations. By going green, you can undoubtedly do some green acts that save our environment from human-approached interventions like the massive use of plastic bags. 

Things need to consider while recycling plastic bags

Making use of plastic bag automatic labeling machine | Video Credit – LC Printing Machine Factory Limited

When it comes to the name of plastic recycling at both the spatial and the temporal scales, you need to visualize several considerations. To make you understand more about plastic recycling, we will take you to the crucial aspects that need to be known. 

  • You can seek the density of the plastics such as high density, low density, and linear low-density Polyethylene. 
  • You can mention the description, such as labeling the plastics and the polyethylene films. The recycling industries produce recycled plastic bags from multiple sources. For instance: from industrial, residential, or store collections. 
  • You can follow several guidelines to get eco-friendly plastic bags that can be safe for the customer to use upon need. 
  • The plastic bags recycling centers and the factories should be cautious of the various contaminants like hard plastics, metal, moisture, rubber bands, and more. 
  • There can be hazardous materials in plastic bags. While wrapping any materials from the plastic, you need to know what type of plastic you are using; that entails stretch films, pallet wrap, polythene bags, and shrink bags as well. 
  • The presence of the two or over pigmented resins in the plastic bags may create issues when there is to be remanufacturing of the plastic bags products. In such circumstances, most significantly, the recycling company and the factories should be mindful of these aspects.

The best example when you wish to seek plastic bag recycling is undoubtedly How2Recycle, and Let’s Clean Up Europe. The How2Recycle organization has been working very hard and has issued over 1000,000 design recommendations to the members who will package their plastic bags in more recyclable ways. 

Wrap up

This article hails the recycling guide for plastic bags, which have been a menacing issue all over the globe. Did you find the information more helpful? Go either to the grocery stores or elsewhere, and take your eco-friendly bags. We, the humans, are the initial change-makers to a healthy environment.

Our small eco-friendly contribution could bring a drastic positive alteration to our natural environment. Unless we do something to our nature, it is sure that plastic pollution will always remain a controversial topic. Let’s promote our plastic bags recycling and adopt the strategy of the 3Rs concept (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).

It’s upon us whether to choose the environmentally friendly approach of recycling the plastic bags on a larger scale or dumping the large pile of plastic bags embedded in the ocean bed. 

(Last Updated on October 11, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Kalpana Ghimire holds a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Nepal. She possesses numerous research experiences working in water pollution, community forestry, environment conservation status, and wildlife ecology. She was an internee in the Department of Environment (EIA monitoring and auditing section) under the Government of Nepal. Kalpana Ghimire is an avid traveler, an enthusiastic wildlife researcher, and has a huge passion for working in the environment sector. She loves far traveling to the natural areas, conducting field wildlife research and reading the novels.