GreenTown Los Altos

New Recommendations for Recycling Thin Plastics


Nov 2018


by Margie Suozzo

Plastic bags and plastic film — the ubiquitous thin plastic packaging that protects our bread, tortilla chips and toilet paper — is a major challenge for local recycling facilities. The good news is that there are better ways to recycle thin plastic packaging.

Sorting equipment clogged with film plastics. Source: High Country Disposal, Redmond, OR.

However — like the order in the adage “reduce, reuse, recycle” — first make an effort to reduce plastic waste. For inspiration, check out Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life or Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home’s tips. If you must purchase items with plastic packaging — and frankly, it’s quite difficult not to — we have a recycling solution! 

Our journey into this recycling challenge began when one of our waste warriors, Barbara O’Reilly, started looking into how to recycle all the thin plastic packaging she was accumulating. First, she discovered that it is difficult for local waste management companies to reliably recycle plastic film. The material can get stuck in recycling sorting equipment and create problems. Often these plastics end up in the landfill.

Next, much to Barbara’s excitement, she discovered many companies that were interested in increasing the recycling of their plastic packaging had joined forces to create better recycling labels and establish store drop-off stations that accept plastic bags and plastic film. You can find drop-off stations at many local grocery and other stores, like Safeway, Draeger’s, Lucky, Whole Foods, and Target. A significant amount of the material collected through store drop-offs actually gets recycled. 

Additionally, a wide range of materials can be collected through store drop-offs, including the following:

  • Most plastic bags: grocery bags, sandwich bags, ziplock bags, newspaper bags, cereal inserts
  • Most plastic wrap packaging: toilet paper wrappers, opaque plastic packaging disposable diapers, clear plastic wrap around water bottles
  • Air pillows and certain pouches: Amazon Prime’s new white packaging, Seventh Generation’s plastic pouches for dishwasher and laundry soap

All of these plastics must be clean and dry. Here is a helpful poster to remind you what can be recycled at store drop-offs. Print it out and hang it on your fridge.

These products, once collected, are then recycled into end products like plastic lumber used to make park benches as well as other plastic bags.

So if you want to do the right thing, collect your film plastics in another plastic bag (your toilet paper packaging will do) and when the bag is full, drop it off at Safeway, Draeger’s, Lucky, Whole Foods, Target, and any other stores that have a drop-off container for plastic bags, wraps, and film. Find a location here.

For more information about plastic film recycling, check out or email





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