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Reggie the Recycling Raccoon says ‘There are other uses for plastic bags’

Reggie the Recycling Raccoon.
Reggie the Recycling Raccoon.

(Chelsea Update would like to thank Frank Hammer for the information in this column.)

Last week, we explained why people can’t recycle plastic bags and other flexible plastics, as well as the problems they cause for the recycling machinery at Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA).

We also told you that you can get rid of them at places like Polly’s, which send them to the landfill.

A primary way to prevent the problems is to stop accepting plastic bags. You can carry your own tote, refuse the bags for pocket-sized items, and always ask if the store can or will provide paper. Stores will always work to please their customer base, so let them know you would prefer paper bags.

So, what can you do with all those non-recyclable plastic bags and other flexible plastics, such as the 6-pack beverage rings or rigid plastic connectors you do get?

You can throw the plastic bags away or cut up the beverage binders and throw them away in your trash. They take up very little space, and many of them will eventually decompose in the landfill.

Be sure that you don’t use plastic bags to hold otherwise recyclable materials, like paper products from a picnic or party. Transfer those items to a paper bag before placing them in the recycling bin, then throw the plastic bag in the trash.

However, on the way to the trash, you can re-purpose the plastic bags before you throw them away.  For example, newspaper bags are good for protecting your arm while painting or cleaning the fireplace. They make a great “pooper-scooper” sleeve when you walk your dog, or to hold a soiled baby’s diaper until you get home.  Then throw them in the trash.

Bread bags are an old standby for helping feet slide into winter boots and for added protection when carrying meat from the grocery, or for freezing food.  When worn out, throw them in the trash.

Courtesy photo. Other types of plastic bags that should not be placed in the recycling bins.
Courtesy photo. Other types of plastic bags that should not be placed in the recycling bins.

Use wadded up plastic bags instead of Styrofoam peanuts to fill boxes when shipping items.

If the bag is opaque, turning them inside out can provide a perfect gift bag.  Decorate or personalize with permanent markers, stickers, etc., add a bit of tissue at the opening and tie up with ribbon.

Sheets of flexible plastic like Visqueen or shower curtains can be used to mulch gardens, protect garage or basement floors from oil leaks and the like, and as mats for keeping out ground moisture when camping.

Lastly—be creative. Did you know you can produce a long-lasting craft fabric by fusing plastic bags with an iron? Clear directions are on

The crafty among us can also use many creative ways to up-cycle plastic bags.

Some great sites are:

Or, think of your own, creative plastic bag use, and send a photo to [email protected]. We will post them on Chelsea Update.

Reggie Raccoon’s Royal Recycling Review:

  • Recycling puts materials back into use; trash is for things that cannot be used again.
  • Flexible plastic of all kinds go in the trash, not in the recycling bins.
  • There are other uses for plastic bags and flexible plastics before they get thrown in the trash.

(Next week, we’ll take a look at types of styrofoam.)

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3 thoughts on “Reggie the Recycling Raccoon says ‘There are other uses for plastic bags’”

  1. I am constantly amazed by all the plastic bags holding recyclables that are put in the recycle bins. Perhaps a big sign on the bins would help?

    On a positive note, I learned from the staff at the Ann Arbor landfill (recycle area) that the long florescent bulbs can be taken to Calvert’s on Jackson Road. Lowe’s will take the small ones but not the long ones.

  2. I had assumed that by taking plastic bags to Polly’s, they were headed to making them into something new. Sort of a re-purposing of plastic. All these years, I had no idea they end up in the land fill. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. It seems to me that the “sheet plastic” should be recycled and perhaps the current equipment at WWRA can’t handle that material but I would be better satisfied reading information that says they (WWRA) are working on a system modification to be able to recycle the plastic sheeting. Continuing to bury non-degradable material is not the way to go. Likewise, the collection bins could be revised to ask people to put sheet plastic into a special compartment. Most people would comply.

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