Are plastic bags recycleable?

A plastic bag is often discarded without much thought regarding the consequences. So what really happens to these bags when you opt out of recycling?

According to, the average American family takes home approximately 1,500 plastic shopping bags per year. Of that 1,500, it is reasonable to assume all of these bags are not being recycled. Plastic bags are not easily decomposed, so when they are not recycled, they typically end up in landfills for a plethora of years. Polypropylene is what most plastic bags are made out of. This material is comprised of nonrenewable sources like natural gas and petroleum. Polypropylene makes plastic bags immune to decomposition and a threat to the environment.

Typically, bacteria in soil decompose items that it encounters. However, polypropylene is a foreign substance to soil bacteria. Because the bacteria does not recognize this substance, it is impossible for the bacteria to decompose the bags.

While soil bacteria have the option to opt out of plastic bags, some are not as fortunate. 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually. explains that polypropylene can break down through a process called photodegradation. The article states, when UV rays strike plastic, they break the bonds holding the long molecular chain together. When the bags are broken down in this way the one big piece of plastic is transformed into little pieces. This may sound okay, the bags are being broken down after all! However, explains, those smaller pieces are now accumulating in the stomachs of marine animals or washing up on shorelines. The plastic isn’t gone, it’s simply smaller and now harder than ever to clean.

 plastic bags in ocean

While plastic, if not properly recycled, can have negative results, there is hope for this cockroach of a material. When individuals take the time to recycle their bags, they can be sent to a recycling facility and appropriately handled. Bags can be reused by being melted down to create more plastic bags or sent to facilities that use the bags for the creation of an entirely new product.

Different local and chain stores recycle plastic bags and have drop offs that individuals can dispose of their bags at. Examples of this locally include Target, Walmart, Hyvee, Best Buy and more. Most drop-offs are located at the front of the stores or can be found upon asking a store employee.

Plastic is designed to last, making it a hazard to the environment. It is vital to remember the impact even one bag can have, whether that impact is positive, or negative is dependent upon the choices each individual makes.