Mailer bags are a staple of the eCommerce business and consumer life. They're used in shipping products, sending samples, and everything in between. Often, these bags are not disposed of properly and end up clogging landfills or ending in the environment.
We're all moving towards running our businesses more sustainably, so sharing what to do with our customers once the packaging is at the end of its life cycle is essential. In this article, we’ll share with you the best ways to ensure these bags are properly disposed of or reused.
Why Can’t Poly Mailers Be Recycled in Curbside Recycling?
Poly mailers are plastic products that can’t be collected in curbside facilities. These plastic bags might clog the recycling machines and snag belts, slowing the recycling process. When it happens, the clogs must be removed manually. This can affect the waste management employees too. Below are some ways to dispose of your mailer bags correctly.
Polymailers are best recycled at the recycling depots or store drop-offs
How to Dispose Your Mailer Bags
There are two ways you can make sure you dispose of your mailer bags properly:
- Store drop-offs
- Recycling facilities
In Canada, glass, aluminum, paper, cardboard, and some plastics are recyclable. Each province has unique rules on the plastics accepted in recycling facilities. Some areas accept the recycling of electronic waste and materials such as paint, tires, and even oil. Here’s a list of the different recycling facilities in Canada.
For the U.S., plastics are generally recyclable, but they shouldn’t be mixed in your regular household bin. There are recycling facilities, but the most widely available are store drop-offs. Here's a link to the list of U.S. recycling facilities and store drop-offs.
What are store drop-offs?
Store drop-offs are designated locations where you can drop off any plastic bags for recycling. You deposit your packaging materials into particular in-store collection bins, from which they'll be picked by the local government or a recycling provider. The plastic waste is sent to a soft recycling facility, where it's transformed into other new products.
Where can I find store drop-offs?
Major and leading retail stores offer drop-off centers for flexible plastic recycling. These store drop-off outlets usually have the bins positioned near their front doorways.
Some big chain store brands with drop-offs include:
You can find a participating drop-off location in your vicinity by using your zip code or address. The common sites with zip code locators in the US are:
What can be recycled in-store drop-offs?
Each store drop-off has predetermined guidelines on what items they accept for recycling. The bags are primarily made of #2 or #4 polyethylene. These include:
- Plastic bags – Grocery, produce, bread, and newspaper bags
- Plastic wraps – Wrapping materials and fillers
- Air pillows
- Poly mailers (except for compostable bags, as they go to industrial composting centers.)
List of Recyclable Bags Accepted at Store Drop-Offs
If the item is undefined, conduct the poke test. This test uses the bag’s elasticity to determine if it should go into the curbside or store drop-off bin. If it’s flimsy and too soft when you poke your finger in it, it's eligible for flexible plastic recycling. However, if it’s relatively sturdy, it's best suited for curbside recycling.
What can't be recycled in-store drop-offs?
For a store drop-off to accept any packaging material, it should be clean and dry. You should completely wipe off any food residues or stains to avoid contaminating the entire batch during recycling.
The stores particularly pay attention to grocery bags, candy wrappers, and pet food bags. They will most likely decline to receive bags that have fillers, coatings, or contain multiple plastic types. Check this article on assessing a material’s recyclability for more tips.
Things to Remember When Dropping Off Your Recyclable Mailer Bags
1. Make sure the bags are clean and dry
Before bringing in your mailer bag, ensure it is not wet and is free of any residue inside. This is mainly for type 4 plastics (LDPE) used extensively for produce and grocery bags.
Make sure that food packaging is clean and dry
Before placing the bag in the bin, you must shake off any food residue and debris and allow any liquids to dry. If the residues cannot come off easily, don't recycle to avoid clogging the machines at the recycling plant.
2. Remove Labels
Labels are usually considered contaminants in the recycling process. Some recycling facilities accept plastics made of the same type of recyclable plastic. Most labels are made from paper and other non-recyclable materials.
📷 From How2Recycle Official FB Page
3. Adhere to the local recycling guidelines
Keep in mind that the recycling programs vary from one location to another. Always check with your local town on their recycling policies. You can easily find this information by calling or checking the local government's website or the designated recycling entity.
If you’re unsure if you can recycle an item in the local facility, it's always best to seek clarification. You will avoid causing structural damage to the plant or increasing running costs as the workers try to remove the clogs or contamination.
FAQs About Recycling Biodegradable Bags
1. What are the numbers on your mailer and plastic bags?
This code has numbers ranging from 1 to 7 inside a small triangle made of arrows. Each number corresponds to the type and density of plastic resin used to make the product. You will find #2 (HDPE) and #4 (LDPE) for the mailer and plastic bags.
Note that the presence of a resin code doesn't necessarily mean that the mailer bag is recyclable. Resin code #7, for example, is made from the fusion of different plastics. It is the hardest to recycle since it's challenging to determine the specific recycling requirements.
2. Can the poly mailers be recycled and reused?
Poly mailers are usually made of LDPE and are recyclable. Since they require soft recycling, you can place them in the same bin as other soft plastics. You will find recycling drop-off points for poly mailers in most grocery stores and pharmacies.
📷 From foodprint.org what the numbers on plastic mean
You can reuse poly mailers, especially when shipping. They are lighter and occupy less space than corrugated boxes, lowering your shipping costs. Moreover, they are waterproof, perfect for mailing documents and clothing.
3. What are the different ways you can reuse your mailer bags?
Reuse the mailers for shipping your packages.
When you first receive the mailer bag, carefully open it using scissors rather than tearing it apart to make it viable for shipping later. Fold the cut edges and adhere to the strip with glue or tape. Remove all the previous labels and attach your new shipping label.
🎥 From The Fixer | Always remove the labels from your plastics
Use the biodegradable bags as fillers.
When shipping fragile items, you can use mailers to cushion the item in the box. It conveniently reduces the use of plastic and its waste management efforts. Besides, it helps you save money since you forgo the cost of purchasing new fillers such as plastic peanuts.
Reuse biodegradable bags as storage.
You can use mailer bags to store things around the house. Whether it is your documents or jewelry, they can be stored safely from water and dust contamination. Moreover, as you travel, these bags will come in handy when hauling wet gear or clothes.
4. Does the color of the bag matter when recycling?
While the color of the bag is more of a preference, black plastic bags are harder to recycle. Most optical sorting systems used in recycling facilities cannot discern the black color. The bags have to be hand-sorted, which is labor and capital-intensive.
Besides, carbon black pigmentation is difficult, if not impossible, to remodel. You can only use the material to produce black items. Consequently, most of these black bags make up the bulk of landfills since they are discarded from store collection bins or recycling facilities.
Look for Packaging that Leaves Zero-Waste
Biodegradable bags break down naturally. Some biodegradable bags require very industrial temperatures to ensure they degrade correctly. Our shop Impack sells mailer bags that break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. You can recycle them at flexible recycling plants, similar to poly mailers.
Waste Disposal is a Collective Responsibility
Proper disposal of mailer bags requires the collective efforts of manufacturers, small shops, and shoppers. Collaboration between the community and government is needed to make recycling and waste disposal facilities more efficient by making them accessible to everyone.
While reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic have had some success, other packaging still ends up in the environment. It’s great to educate your shoppers and encourage them to dispose of mailer bags properly and recycle them. But using eco-friendly packaging is also as important to really help the environment. It will reduce not only the carbon footprint, but also the cost of waste management.
With everyone playing their part, we can efficiently dispose of and recycle most plastic waste products. As a result, we can enjoy a sustainable and vibrant ecosystem for generations to come.
How do you encourage your shoppers to recycle your packaging? Share with us your experiences in the comment section below!