Plastic bags disposal and recycling

It’s no secret that plastic bags are one of the most widespread non-biodegradable items in landfills and oceans across the world.

But what are they made of and how can you get rid of them safely? More and more options are becoming available and you may discover that it is actually possible to recycle your plastic bags.

plastic bags

Who invented plastic bags?

Funnily enough, plastic bags were invented to save the planet. This was because they made an alternative to the paper bags which were used at the time, amid fears that too many would result in forests being cut down.

It was the son of Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin who first invented plastic bags in 1959.

What are plastic bags made from and how are they made?

Today, these bags are commonly made from polyethylene. This manmade material consists of ethylene monomers in long chains, developed from natural gas and petroleum.

It is through a complex scientific process called blown film extrusion that plastic bags are made. The pellets of polyethylene are melted down and liquified in an industrial warehouse and blown into a very thin material which can then be manufactured into the bags we recognise.

Plastic bag disposal

It’s always vital to check what your local council accepts in kerbside recycling. Bin contamination with non-recyclable materials could mean the entire load is sent to landfills.

20% of Brits are guilty of accidentally putting plastic bags in their recycling bins, so you won’t be alone. But this can contribute vastly to national landfills and the amount of plastic entering our oceans, harming wildlife.

To dispose of your plastic bags – first, check with your local supermarket. There are collection points at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, The Co-Operative, Asda, Morrisons, and Waitrose where you can return your carrier bags. You can find these usually by the main entrance.

You can also check with your local council for a recycling programme that may even provide a free collection service.

Problems with plastic bag waste

Even if you put your plastic bag securely in your household waste bin, they are designed to be so lightweight that millions escape every year and wreak havoc. They clog drains, cause litter pile-ups, and endanger wildlife who can suffocate or choke on them.

Alternatives to plastic bags

Since the introduction of the 5p charge in 2015, the sales numbers for plastic bags are down by an incredible 90%, which has made a huge difference already. However, the UK is still guilty of using more than one billion plastic bags every year.

The easiest alternative is to use reusable bags – on sale at all major retailers – or even to reuse your current plastic bags which can last for years.

Facts about plastic bags

• Between 2016 and 2017, over 2.1 billion plastic bags were sold. This is the equivalent of every person in the UK buying 25 bags each.
• Almost 5 trillion plastic bags are made each year worldwide.
• An average UK family can use up to 15 plastic bags in one shopping trip.

Where can you take plastic bags to be recycled/disposed of for free?

You can recycle your plastic bags for free by taking them back to your local supermarket and returning them to a collection point. These bags will then be reused or recycled by the supermarket.

Alternatively, you can check your local council’s website and enquire about a collection programme for plastic bags.

Learn more about plastic bags
Death of the plastic bag
What are the different types of plastic?
Plastic recycling

What would you like to learn about next?

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