Just Zip It. Zipper-type plastic storage bags have hundreds of uses and are fast becoming the quintessential storage solution for households and businesses. Foods, electronic parts, garden soils, and even crime scene evidence end up packaged in these convenient, storage bags. Although millions of these bags are used daily, recycling used zipper-type plastic bags is not so easy.
Because municipal recycling infrastructure has evolved around the collection of plastic bottles, most cities and towns only accept PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastics for curbside collection. Most plastic storage bags are made from LDPE (#4) and even sometimes from PP (#5). For more information on these plastics, please visit: Plastic Packaging Resins. While municipal recycling centers can accommodate the reclamation of bin liners used to transport curbside plastics, most downstream separation processes (used after collection bag contents are emptied) are not designed to handle the separation of plastic bags, films, and wraps. Without the convenience of curbside pickup, the final resting place of many (if not most) of our zipper-type storage bags is the dreaded landfill.
With the zipper-type or “sliderÓ bag the consumer-preferred choice for plastic bags, the use of these bags is growing. Once a product offered only under the best brand-names, this convenient, sealable storage solution is now a mainstay item of private label brands too. So, what can we do to keep these bags out of our landfills?
The answer rests with the story behind the recycling of retail plastic shopping bags. (For those of you interested in futher information on plastic bag recycling, please read an earlier posting of mine, Plastic Bags a Shopper’s Dream of Nightmare?). With many city and state governments enacting laws that demand retailers to offer recycling services for plastic shopping bags which are made from HDPE #2, the door is opening for households to have convenient recycling drop-off locations for all plastic bags. According to the American Chemistry Association, wherever plastic shopping bags (HDPE #2) are collected for recycling, cleaned, sealable food storage bags (if the hard components are removed), bread bags, dry cleaning bags, and even plastic wraps can be recycled too. The same infrastructure set up to handle HDPE #2 bags handles LDPE #4 bags (as long as any zippers are removed).
Why the zippers cannot be recycled remains a mystery; most zippers are made of LDPE (#4) plastic. Because the zippers may contain colorants and proprietary sealants, perhaps they are considered contaminants. However, the LDPE recycling industry is adept at stripping dyes and other impurities from LDPE plastic. So, who knows? Does anyone have an answer for this? I surmise it may be because HDPE zippers are not collected in large enough quantities to make recycling economically feasible.
If you are going to use zipper- type plastic storage bags more commonly known as, ÒZiplocÓ bags, please remember to cut off the zippers before you recycle them. Try and collect your zipper-less used bags in bulk (preferably in a used plastic shopping bag) so you can conveniently drop “the bag of bags” into your retailer’s recycling station. To be even more environmentally conscious, try and use non-zippered bags when possible. YouÕll be helping to keep LDPE plastic out of our landfills. If you need to have a sealed pouch bag, plastic bag heat sealers eliminate the need for zippers and are available at most big box stores. For real eco-purists, you can always find storage solutions that are non-plastic. Glass storage containers keep food. Post consumer recycled cardboard boxes store non-perishable items. A New Zealand company, Kizan Ltd., even offers a reusable plastic bag sealer, the ÒMagic Lock Reusable Bag SealerÓ. Please view the video below. I have ordered the product and will test it out. IÕll be letting you know if it works as well as seen in the video. Happy bagging!
Magic Lock Reusable Bag Sealer
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References for this article were obtained from: ÒZippers and Sliders: An Open and Shut Case for Packagers: New Zipper Materials and Designs Improve Seal Integrity and expand Use into Retort Applications, While Sliders Take On Transverse TechnologyÓ, ÒFood & Drug PackagingÓ, September 2004, D. Sokol, www.earthodyssey.com, www.manufacturingtalk.com, ÒLow-Price Slider For LPDE BagsÓ, May, 11, 2005, ÒWhat You Should Know About Plastic BagsÓ, www.plasticbagfacts.org