Guide to Understanding the Types of Plastic Bags That Can Be Recycled

Guide to Understanding the Types of Plastic Bags That Can Be Recycled

By AAA Polymer | Plastics Recycling

Dec 31

In a previous post, we discussed the different types of materials that plastic bags can be made from. All plastic bags are made out of thin, flexible sheets of plastic or "film". And most of the plastic films used to make bags are made from polyethylene resins, which are readily recyclable as long as the materials are cleaned and dried. 

However, every type of material is unique and different, which necessitates the explanation of the types of plastic bags that can be recycled. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of plastic bags that can be recycled. 

Plastic Resin Overview

Every type of plastic bag is made with a specific resin polymer, and these bags are assigned a code. The resin coding system was originally designed for tough, rigid plastic containers. However, most manufacturers now include the resin code on films as well as plastic bags. If there is no resin code printed on the bag, the application for the film may determine the type of plastic resin. Why? Because each resin is chosen to observe the film's characteristics or for its performance. 

#4 — Low Density Polyethylene Plastic Resins 

LDPE resins are made to make items like bread bags, thicker newspaper bags, and even bubble wrap. These unpigmented films boast moderate stretch, high clarity, and good strength characteristics. 

#4 — Linear Low Density Polyethylene Plastic Resins

LLDPE bags are typically also unpigmented films with a sticky, tacky feel to the touch and have moderate clarity. You'll commonly find LLDPE bags as dry cleaning film and thin, newspaper bags. 

#4 Medium Density Polyethylene

MDPE bags will have poor stretch, moderate clarity, and good strength characteristics. You can find this bag resin used in a range of consumer paper packaging products. MDPE is normally used as an alternative to other types of resins where strength characteristics are not necessary. 

#2 — High Density Polyethylene 

HDPE bags commonly used as grocery bags, t-shirt bags, and even air cushion bags. These unpigmented films do offer a level of opacity and are very strong. However, HDPE bags are very crinkly to the touch and have limited stretch. 

All of the previous types of plastic bag resins can be recycled, but some resin types are more recyclable than others. 

What Determines the Types of Plastic Bags That Can Be Recycled? 

When compared to metal and glass, plastic bag resins do require greater processing for it to be recycled. Every type of plastic bag resin will melt at different temperatures and have a completely unique set of properties. 

It's critical to understand that most types of plastics (the resin code) are not compatible with other resin codes. The recyclability of any material, including plastic bags, will hinge on a range of factors. 

Can the Plastic Bags Be Separated? 

First, the plastic bag must be able to be sorted or separated from other recyclables and waste. The process of separation can happen in a number of ways. For instance, some companies use  material-specific bins or collection containers to protect the integrity of their corporate recycling program. On the other hand, there are more complex methods of separation with the use of float-sink sorting or high-tech infrared solutions. 

Can the Plastic Bags Be Accumulated?

Simply put, if your facility doesn't collect sufficient volumes of recyclable plastic bags, recycling may not be a viable option. In fact, the efficient collection and transportation of plastic film and bags is key to recyclability. 

Do Recycled Materials Have a New End Use? 

For any material to be recyclable, the recycled resin should have a feasible use in another application or product. In general, the best applications are when the recycled material is turned into the same product, such as old bottles into new bottles. 

At the same time, the materials can be recycled and turned into an entirely new product or application. Several plastic films and bags take this route. For example, some recycled bags and films can be made into new bags, picnic tables, playground equipment, fibers, and virtually everything else. 

Which Types of Plastic Bags Are Best Recycled? 

As we previously mentioned plastic bags are essentially made out of film, and most plastic bags are made from either #2 HDPE or #4 LDPE or LLDPE resins. Plastic bags made out of either type of resin can be easily recycled as long as the material is clean and dry.. 

Contact AAA Polymer for Commercial Plastic Recycling

At AAA Polymer, we are a team of capable, experienced, and committed leaders who are dedicated to handling plastic recycling projects of all sizes. Whether you operate a small distribution center that generates minimal amounts of stretch film or several large warehouses located across the U.S., AAA Polymer can and will help. 

Contact us today for customized recycling solutions. 

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