I'm wondering whether I should wash and reuse my Ziploc bags or if it makes more ecological sense to bring them to a grocery store plastic recycling collection bin. Ideally at home we wash the bags in bulk in a sink full of soapy water then rinse.

I'd like to know what factors to consider when making this decision (i.e., energy required, what happens to the bags during/after recycling, tips for washing, etc.)

  • 4
    Reuse first, then recycle. This doesn't only hold true for Ziploc bags...
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 16, 2013 at 17:50
  • 1
    I usually wash them by putting them flat on the bottom of the sink and then inserting my hand flat and with a sponge, so that the bag doesn't wrinkle as much. For drying I turn them inside out and stick them on a bottle/glass whatever other drying dishes I have. Once the (now turned-out) inside is dry, you can store them as usual (leave the zip open).
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 16, 2013 at 17:54
  • 1
    Try to replace them with something else, and reuse the ones you have until they fall apart. I haven't used ziplock bags in over 5 years and haven't missed them.
    – lemontwist
    Feb 16, 2013 at 18:35
  • @lemontwist with what would you replace freezer bags and the specially perforated produce bags? Feb 19, 2013 at 19:02
  • @glenviewjeff, I don't use produce bags at all, and I don't freeze in plastic.
    – lemontwist
    Feb 20, 2013 at 3:18

3 Answers 3


The mantra of sustainability is

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

i.e. Reduce what you use, reuse what you can, recycle what you can't. This order is important, recycling should always be the last resort.

It sounds like you are being sensible when you wash the bags for re-use, since you are only using water, energy and detergents which were left over after other activities, thus reuse comes with a zero environmental cost.

If you were to recycle these bags, then there would be the environmental cost of transporting them and reprocessing them, then they would end up being downcycled into fabric anyway.

Also, if your Polyethylene bags are soiled with food then they should probably not be recycled1. As soiled bags should be washed before being recycling anyway, you might as well reuse them once they are clean.

1: This is a requirement with my local authority recycling collections, it may not be for you.


Working in Reuse I have heard Rethinking Waste - The 5 R's Mantra:

1. Refuse>
2. Reduce>
3. Reuse>
4. Repurpose
5. Recycle>

To recycle any product takes energy. These recyclable products are seen as a commodity in the market place. Maybe #5 plastics don't have a high demand right now; it could sit for a long time, maybe months, maybe years depending on supply & demand. So to recycle things that are not compostable should thus be the last choice.

The reason for using a two terms that by generalizing could be categorized the same is to stimulate thought, after all this is about rethinking waste. To Reuse something is to use it over and over for the purpose it was intended. Like a glass jar. Once it can no longer be Reused then it is time to get creative and Repurpose it.

To repurpose is to use a tool for use as another tool, usually for a purpose unintended by the original tool-maker. My example of this would my the wallet which is actually a second generation repurposed item. I can't claim the creativity but it was a person out of Boulder, CO "English Retreads" that thought of repurposing the worn-out inner-tubes that were beyond repair from a rafting company that rented them to go down the river on. The rafting business had repurposed them from tractors that could no longer use them because they would become deformed after time.

To repurpose can create business, jobs, and income. UC-Davis has a Repurpose store adjacent to their University store which sells ladies handbags made out of the heavy duty high end plastic shopping bags one may find in Sax Fifth Ave., etc. (they are making money doing so!). There are magazines, websites (instructables & many more) and even fair's (the Maker's Fair) that are dedicated to repurposing what otherwise would be trash or recycling. By getting creative and thinking a bit out of the box you are cutting down on waste and you are saving energy not hauling it away to the recycling center, dump or incinerator. This is the idea behind adding Repurpose in addition to Reuse.

I don't feel to reduce needs any explanation or examples but let me know if so.

Refuse is at the very top, to get the consumer to think about what they are buying. I can't stand those hard-plastic "clamshell" designed packages that are impossible to open without a Ginsu and then can not Reuse the odd thing and they are not recyclable. To stimulate thought of refusing to purchase any of the single-use plastics. Water bottles, even if they are recyclable, the lids are not. Refuse plastic-ware and plastic straws because they are not recyclable; there are biodegradable alternatives. If you've ever volunteered at a beach cleanup (if not check out surfriders) you know how many straws are out in the ocean. Refuse these items before you get to reducing other plastics. Refuse the junk mail before it wastes the couriers time money, fossil fuels, etc. A very easy refuse junk mail packet exists and can be found at stopwaste.org

A blog further stating the logic of two more R's

  • 1
    I wish more sellers/manufacturers would support a program like Amazon Frustration Free packaging. Not only does it make the goods easier to open, but the packaging is last wasteful and recyclable.
    – Johnny
    Jan 9, 2014 at 2:09

For everything re-use always beats recycling both in terms of energy required and the like.

But this is especially true with plastics, which are typically downgraded on each recycling effort and quickly become non-recyclable. You may start out with soda pop bottles and ziplock bags and get carpet and plastic lumber for example. Recycle when it can't be re-used anymore.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.