The curbside recycling service in my town accepts plastic bags. I wonder whether there is any difference in the recycling process (thus there is any environmental benefit) between this and taking them to the grocery store, where there is a container specific for plastics.

The fact that some people make the effort to take them to the grocery store, while it is way more convenient to drop it in the recycling bin, makes me think there may be some advantage.

My local recycling service announces that they manually sort out the recycling materials.

  • I would be stunned if the plastic bags from household recycling get sorted, cleaned, then recycled. They're at best going to be incinerated, but in most places they'll go to landfill. The labour and water for cleaning would almost certainly outweigh any benefit from recycling.
    – Ⴖuі
    Jan 16, 2016 at 22:51
  • @Ⴖuі I'll stun you. This is indeed what usually happens when recycling plastics.
    – user2451
    Mar 15, 2016 at 16:31
  • 1
    @JanDoggen in Australia the household recycling says "no plastic bags", and in NZ when I briefly worked in a plastic factory they could only recycle clean, dry plastic and very rarely accepted plastic bags at all. So while that subset of plastics that are recycled might include some bags, my experience is the vast majority of bags are not recycled.
    – Ⴖuі
    Mar 21, 2016 at 7:19
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    @Ⴖuі Aha, so there's obviously very different techniques per country. Interesting. Here in The Netherlands we are even allowed to include metal and drink cartons in the plastic garbage; a new large separating unit just opened which can handle that. I guess price is a major determinant here: we don't have much landfill space and burning has always been expensive.
    – user2451
    Mar 21, 2016 at 8:26
  • The real advantage of plastic bag collection in the supermarket is that they get only plastic bags, so the sorting process is much simpler - they remove any litter from the bin, that's all. Whereas bags in the normal waste stream have to be separated, collected and cleaned. It's probably worse now when we have multiple, incompatible types of plastics used for bags that look similar - the bioplastics that are designed to mimic fossil plastics in particular.
    – Móż
    Mar 21, 2016 at 22:37

2 Answers 2


No, the process the plastic ends up going through is the same.

The only thing that changes when you drop them off at the grocery store is that it is more convenient for the recycling plant because the grocery store collection gets presorted, and the grocery retailers probably deliver enough bulk at a time that they actually get some money for it. A normal household could not achieve that kind of scale so they won't get paid.


I'm going to give a different then user2121874.

The process the plastic ends up going through is the same.

However, there is a difference in the distance driven between the two methods. Take a piece of paper, draw a shop and some households around it, and a processing plant in the distance. Now draw the routes required in both scenarios. The 'everybody taking their stuff to the grocery store' scenario takes more kilometers, hence more fuel.

Unless you don't travel by car, or you were going to the store anyway.

In which case a generic answer is not possible ;-)

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