Are Paper Bags Recyclable

Are Paper Bags Recyclable? & Ideas for Reuse

We consider paper bags to be one of the most eco-friendly options for packaging. Unlike plastic bags, paper bags are 100% biodegradable and considered to be much kinder to our environment. 

They have a sturdy design and good shape that allows more room for groceries and other household items when you go shopping. They are also great for printing high-quality images and designs for branding purposes. 

But can we recycle paper bags? The answer is yes. You can recycle paper bags as long as they are free from food particles, ink, or other contaminants. 

Read on as we explore all you need to know about how to recycle paper bags. 

How to recycle paper bags

Recyclable paper bag
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Recycling your paper bags is one solution to reducing paper waste. Your paper lunch bag, brown paper grocery bags, wrapping paper, and other paper products can easily be recycled off the curbside or dropped off at a recycling center. 

However, before putting them in the recycling bin, you want to ensure they are entirely free of any plastic, food residue, grease, or any liquid, as this can ruin the entire paper recycling process. An additional tip is to ensure you fold them properly to conserve space. 

The process of recycling paper bags involves shredding the paper, boiling them in hot water, and converting them back into paper pulp. Manufacturers then process the pulp to create new bags or other new paper products. 

Shopping bags or gift bags you bring home from the groceries might constitute some problems as manufacturers make most of them using a combination of paper and plastic for extra durability. You can’t recycle bags like these. You’re best to find reuse options for these bags, a giveaway as to if they contain plastic is usually an outer sheen. 

Related: Eco-Friendly Packaging - 15 More Sustainable Packaging Options

How to compost paper bags 

Composting is an easy way to get rid of household materials like food and other kitchen waste. So how do you compost your paper bags?

All you need to do is add them to your compost pile. You can simply buy a compost bin or build one in your garden. 

Fill the bottom of your compost pile with garden waste like leaves, grass, and some kitchen scraps. Next, leave to decompose. As worms and microbes begin to consume the materials, you can then add your shredded paper shopping bags to the pile. 

The compost pile will turn into rich soil additives that fertilize the soil at the end of the process, which could take a few weeks. 

8 ways to reuse your paper bags 

Reuse ideas for paper bags
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Here are a few simple ways you can reuse your paper bags: 

  1. Line your garbage can: This is a practical and straightforward way to put your paper bag to good use. Instead of using plastic shopping bags, which do not decompose in the landfill, simply insert your paper bag into your trash can. Of course, you might want to avoid any liquid waste material to avoid any mishaps on your way to the dumpster. 
  2. Use to store household items: If your paper bags are still sturdy, you can use them to store household items like clothes, books, toys, and so on. 
  3. Use as a recycling container: You can use your paper bags to pack up other paper recycling products. You can store your weekly paper recycling items in a paper bag and then throw them in the bin for curbside recycling. 
  4. Use to cover books: One easy way to reuse your paper bags is to use them as wrapping paper for your favorite books to prevent them from getting damaged. 
  5. Use for wrapping gifts: You can get a little creative with your paper bags and use them as wrapping paper for gifts. You can turn them inside out and use them to wrap a birthday gift for your friends or loved ones. Don’t forget to add some ribbons! 
  6. Use to wrap leftovers: You can use your brown paper bag as an alternative to plastic wrap to store a few leftover snacks for your guests to take home. 
  7. Use for kid’s activities: Your brown paper bags can make a good material for kids to get creative with. They can cut out eye holes or make funny costumes for Halloween. They could also use them for artistic drawings or paintings. You could also use them as disposable placemats for the kid’s table. 
  8. Wrap a bouquet: Your paper bags can work as wraps for a bouquet. You can wrap up fresh flowers as a gift for your loved one. 

Benefits of recycling paper bags 

In the United States, facilities recovered 68.2% of paper for recycling in 2018. This was a total of 99 million tons of paper. Recycling your paper bags comes with several benefits.

Firstly, recycling your paper helps save natural resources that the paper industry uses to manufacture new paper. One ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 3.3 yards of landfill space, 7000 gallons of water, and 4000 kilowatts of energy. It can also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. 

However, recycling paper does have its limits. Each time paper is recycled, the fibers present in the resulting recycled material get weaker and shorter. This means you can only recycle paper at least six times before the resulting recycled paper bags or other products become too weak to be used. 

Related: Eco-Friendly Paper - All you need to know

Paper bags vs. Plastic bags - Which is the greener option? 

Is it paper or plastic? For many grocery shoppers and even among environmentalists, this has become a common debate around the world. 

Paper bags, of course, come from paper which comes from trees. Every year, companies cut down billions of trees to manufacture paper. This results in deforestation - an environmental plague that increases greenhouse gas levels and disrupts our natural ecosystem. 

The manufacturing process also adds to carbon emissions. Typically, manufacturers carry the chopped-down wood to factories using heavy trucks or helicopters that increase their carbon footprint. In the factories, manufacturers process the chopped wood using chemicals that are equally toxic to the environment. According to research, manufacturing a paper bag requires four times as much energy as it will take to produce a plastic bag. 

On the other hand, manufacturers make plastic bags using polythene which they heat, stretch, and convert to plastic bags. Plastics are also relatively sturdy and reusable. However, plastics are toxic to the environment and can be poisonous to sea animals who mistake them for food. 

Paper bags are less durable and can split or tear, especially if wet. So, the number of times you can reuse a paper bag is significantly less than a plastic bag. 

When we consider decomposition, the paper bag is at an advantage. Paper bags are 100% biodegradable and compostable, unlike plastic ones that could remain in landfills for up to 1000 years. 

You can easily recycle bags made from paper which ultimately lessens the impact on the environment. On the other hand, although plastic bags are recyclable, most recycling centers don’t accept them.

Also, there are other eco-friendly materials for making paper grocery bags. This includes sugarcane waste, straw fibers, jute twine, coconut husk, and so on. This helps to reduce the impact of deforestation. 

The better way to shop 

While recycling paper bags is an effective way to reduce paper waste and conserve natural resources, reusable bags are better for reducing paper and plastic waste.

Ensure your reusable bags are within your reach for all shopping trips. If you forget your reusable grocery bags and shop for a few items, you can carry your items by hand. You can also consider reusable lunch bags for packing up your snacks. You can check out our article here for reusable bags you can shop for. 

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