Plastic Recycling Facts

1. Plastic grocery bags are an extremely resource-efficient disposable bag choice.

Using paper bags doubles the amount of CO2 produced versus using plastic bags.5

Plastic grocery bags require 40-70 percent less energy to manufacture than paper bags.1

For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same number of plastic bags, helping to save energy and reduce emissions.

It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.1

2. Less material means less waste and fewer emissions.

2,000 plastic bags weigh 30 lbs; 2,000 paper bags weigh 280 lbs. Plastic bags take up a lot less space in a landfill.1

Plastic bags generate 80 percent less waste than paper bags.1

Plastic grocery bags make up a tiny fraction (less than 0.5 percent) of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream.2

The manufacture and use of paper bags generates 70% more air emissions than plastic.1

Plastic bags generate only 40% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of non-composted paper bags and only 21% of the GHG emissions of composted paper bags.3

The production of plastic bags consumes less than 4 percent of the water needed to make paper bags.3

3. Plastic grocery bags are fully recyclable4 and the number of recycling programs is increasing daily.

Nationwide over 812 million pounds of bags and film were recycled in 2006—up 24 percent from 2005.

Plastic bags can be made into dozens of useful new products, such as building and construction products, low-maintenance fencing and decking, and of course, new bags.

There is high demand for this material, and in most areas, demand exceeds the available supply because many consumers are not aware that collection programs are available at local stores.

In recent years, many grocers and retailers have introduced plastic bag collection programs.

Consumers should look for a collection bin, usually located at the front of the store. The number of municipal drop-off centers and curb side programs to recycle plastic bags is increasing also.

    In addition to grocery bags, other plastic retail bags, dry cleaning bags and newspaper bags can be included wherever plastic bags are collected for recycling.

      4. In addition to recycling, a recent national survey shows that over 90% of Americans reuse their plastic bags.

      About 65% of Americans reuse their bags for trash disposal. Other common uses include lunch bags and pet pick-up.

      In this regard, the reuse of a plastic shopping bag prevents a second bag from being purchased to fulfill these necessary functions.



      Banning recyclable plastic bags will not reduce society’s dependence on oil.

      In the United States, nearly 80% of polyethylene, the type of plastic used to make plastic bags, is produced from natural gas. This includes feedstock, process and transportation energy.

      Much of the energy used to make plastic bags is embodied in the bag itself, and since plastic bagsare fully recyclable, that energy is available for new products.

      Mandating that recyclable plastic bags be replaced with biodegradable or compostable bags will not reduce litter or the amount of waste in our landfills.

      The biodegradable and compostable bags currently on the market will only degrade in a

      professionally-managed, large-scale composting facility. They will not breakdown in the         
      natural environment, in a home composting device or in a landfill.

      It is currently estimated that there are fewer than 100 suitable composting facilities in the United States. Where composting facilities are not available, “compostable” bags will be sent to a landfill.

      Banning recyclable plastic bags or mandating their replacement with compostable bags will
      diminish efforts to recycle these products.

      Mandating that grocers and retailers replace plastic bags with compostable or paper bags will eliminate many in-store collection programs, which are currently the largest mechanism for recovering post-consumer bags for recycling.

      In addition, the mandated use of compostable bags will cause the accidental commingling of biodegradable and recyclable bags, which will contaminate the recovered material, rendering it unusable by manufacturers.


1 GUA - Gesellschaft für umfassende Analysen, The Contribution of Plastic Products to Resource Efficiency, Vienna, 2005,
Boustead Consulting , “Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags - Recyclable Plastic; Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper,” 2007,

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Questions about Your Community Shopping Bags: Paper or Plastic. See:

2  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Municipal Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures. See:

3 Swiss Agency for Environment, Forests & Landscape (SAEFL). Life Cycle Inventories for Packagings. Environmental   
  Series 250/1. 1998.Based on data from Eco-Profiles of the European Plastics Industry, LDPE Film Extrusion: A  
  Report by I. Boustead for PlasticsEurope. March2005. See

4 Recycling may not be available in all areas. Check to see if recycling exists in your community. See: can locate plastic bag recycling programs in their     
   communities by

5 Boustead Consulting, 2007