sports carrier bags on track.
Carrier Bag Recycling

Carrier Bag Recycling and Disposal

We use carrier bags nearly every day – whether doing the weekly shop, packing up a takeaway, or receiving an online delivery. Unfortunately, carrier bags take up a vast amount of waste sent to landfill sites each year. Recycling carrier bags and disposing of them properly can significantly cut down on this and help protect our planet.

Recycling plastic bags in the UK is possible and should be encouraged for both businesses and individuals. Discover everything you need to know about carrier bag recycling and disposal to ensure you get rid of any you use in an environmentally friendly way.

Carrier bag
recycling FAQs

  • What type of waste are carrier bags?

    Carrier bags are typically made from either high-density polythene (HDPE) or low-density polythene (LDPE). Therefore, carrier bags can class as a type of plastic waste – however, they can’t always go in with the rest of your plastic waste. Some supermarkets now offer alternative paper carrier bags – which class as paper waste.

  • Who invented carrier bags?

    Before plastic carrier bags were introduced, most bags were made from woven fabric. The plastic carrier bags we know today were only invented in the 1960s by Sten Gustaf Thulin. Thulin was an engineer working for a packaging company who realised that thin and flexible packaging could be the solution his company needed.

  • What are carrier bags made from?

    Plastic carrier bags are typically made from either low or high-density polyethene –LDPE or HDPE. Polythene is a type of plastic that’s lightweight and durable, which makes it perfect for all forms of packaging. As well as being used to make plastic bags, it’s also used to create products such as cling film, sandwich bags, and plastic bottles.

  • How are carrier bags made?

    The steps to make plastic carrier bags are as follows:

    • Polythene pellets are put into a machine that melts and liquifies them.
    • This plastic is placed into a machine that blows the melted pellets into a tube shape by a process known as extrusion.
    • As the plastic cools, it’s flattened into one thin sheet of plastic. The thickness of the sheet depends on the kind of bag being created, as some are designed to be more durable than others.
    • Once flattened, the plastic is cut to the desired length of the manufacturer. Again, this varies depending on the bag being created.
    • If the bag requires any branding – such as supermarket logos or distinctive colours – ink is added to the carrier bag during this stage.
    • The bag is then run through another machine, which creates the typical bag shape – before the top of the bag is pierced to make the handles. The bag is then sealed ready for use.
  • Can you recycle carrier bags?

    Yes, you can recycle carrier bags. Sometimes you can recycle carrier bags alongside other plastic waste, just ensure they’re clean, dry, empty, and untied. The ease of carrier bag recycling can depend on the type of plastic it’s made from though. Some supermarkets have specific carrier bag bins to separate them from other plastic waste for recycling.

    Recycling LDPE products can be difficult as the materials are hard to break down and resistant to chemicals. Despite this, there are various initiatives in place that make it possible to recycle carrier bags instead of simply throwing them away.

  • How do you dispose of old carrier bags?

    Soft plastic products such as carrier bags can sometimes be challenging to recycle. However, you should not place them alongside your general waste or the rest of your plastic recycling. Instead, many supermarkets have carrier bag bins designed to store and recycle plastic bags and similar products.

    If you use a large volume of carrier bags in your business, you’re responsible for ensuring they’re disposed of correctly. To dispose of carrier bags in your business you should:

    • Ensure plastic bags are free from continents, clean, and dry before throwing them away.
    • Store used carrier bags in the appropriate recycling bin or container – away from the rest of your plastic products and waste.
    • Arrange for your carrier bag waste to be collected regularly by licensed waste carriers – who will transport to an appropriate nearby facility for recycling.
  • What happens to carrier bags after they’re put in the bin?

    If plastic carrier bags are put in a general waste bin and end up on a landfill site, it’s estimated they can take upwards of 1,000 years to break down – even after this time, they do not degrade completely. Instead, plastic carrier bags photo-degrade, which means they turn into microplastics that contribute significantly to pollution.

    However, recycling plastic bags means they’ll go to an appropriate facility with specialist machinery. Here, the plastic bags are fed into a large machine that breaks them down into smaller pellets. These pellets can either be reused to make new bags or used to create other polyethene products.

  • What are some eco-friendly alternatives to carrier bags?

    From May 2021, the UK government increased the amount retailers must charge customers to 10p for single-use carrier bags. This scheme aims to encourage reuse of bags and it’s proven to be successful. According to a recent BBC report, the average adult now buys just four single-use carrier bags a year – compared to approximately 140 before the scheme was introduced.

    Thankfully, there are various alternatives to carrier bags:

    • Bags for life (designed for long-term use)
    • Tote or fabric bags
    • Mesh bags
    • Paper bags
  • Can you do anything with carrier bags instead of throwing them away?

    The most obvious way to reduce the amount of carrier bag waste you produce is by simply reusing plastic shopping bags instead of throwing them away. You can use these products multiple times over because they’re incredibly durable and long-lasting. Try leaving a few in the back of your car to avoid forgetting them.

    When they do break, recycling plastic bags in the UK is fairly easy, as you can often take them to supermarkets with dedicated carrier bag bins. If you have a bag for life, most retailers will replace your old, damaged one for free too.

  • What are the costs associated with recycling and disposing of carrier bags?

    In most cases you can recycle carrier bags for free by placing in the appropriate bin. As a business that produces large volumes of carrier bag waste, you will have to pay for collection by licensed waste carriers. It’s a worthwhile cost considering that you’ll be helping to protect the planet and reduce pollution.

    At Business Waste, we pride ourselves on keeping waste collection, disposal, and recycling costs as low as possible. We offer free bins for delivery to store your carrier bag waste – you just pay for collection. Get a free quote today by calling 0800 211 8390 or contact us online.

  • How many carrier bags are there?

    According to a recent study, around the world we use more than 500 billion (five trillion) plastic bags each year. That’s 160,000 carrier bags per second. Even though usage is decreasing in the UK, it still works out at 700 carrier bags per person on the planet every year.

  • How many carrier bags are in landfill?

    It’s estimated that over one million plastic bags are sent to landfill sites every minute around the world.

  • What are some facts about carrier bags?

    A few key facts about plastic bags are that:

    • 73% of the waste found on beaches is made from plastic products, such as carrier bags – according to National Geographic.
    • When plastic bags end up in the ocean, they can contaminate water streams and cause the death of numerous marine animals who may mistake them for food.
    • Less than 10% of plastic used in the UK is recycled appropriately.
  • Where can you take carrier bags to recycle or dispose of them for free?

    Due to the dangers associated with carrier bags being sent to landfill sites, there are many initiatives in place that enable you to recycle them for free. For example, many supermarkets have collection points set up in-store to collect products that you can’t throw away alongside the rest of your recycling. Alternatively, you can take old plastic bags directly to local recycling centres.

Learn about more 
waste types

Find out more about other rubbish streams.

Read our guides to waste types
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