Daily Choices

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag

Paper? Plastic? How about “none of the above”?

We all know it’s better to use reusable bags than to waste hundreds of plastic or paper bags every year. But when you’re in the checkout line and realize your reusable bags are out in the trunk, what are you going to do?

It happens to all of us. You’ll have to go get your bags or carry your items yourself. If you do get disposable bags (and pay the $.05), make sure to recycle them.  Many stores offer recycling. Then next time, put “reusable bags” at the top of your store list to remind you.


Reusable grocery bags on a kitchen counter

Image credit: Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

All about the Montgomery County Bag Law 

Find a plastic bag recycling center near you

Video: Tour the world’s largest plastic bag recycling center:

Montgomery County has joined D.C. in levying a bag fee. Every single use bag you use will cost you 5 cents.  So bring reusables — they’ll be paid for in no time. If you believe a retailer is not implementing the bag law, please report it to 311.

I recycle my plastic bags. Isn’t that good enough?

It’s better, but they can still clog our waterways and harm wildlife. Another problem with plastic bags is that there is a chance for them to be picked up by the wind and carried down the street. This is the reason why you might see so many bags stuck in trees or in the river. In addition, they’re almost all made from petroleum, a finite and dirty resource. It’s best to keep reusable bags handy — in the trunks of your cars, in your purse and briefcase.


It’s impossible to get away from plastic bags completely. Where can I recycle them?

All Montgomery Country grocery stores are required to have plastic bag recycling bins right in the front of the store. If you keep forgetting to bring them, put the bags in your reusable shopping bag. Or, add it as an item to your grocery list. Click here to find all of the plastic bag drop-off locations in your area. 


Why are paper bags included in the law? Aren’t plastic bags the problem?

Many people are under the illusion that getting paper bags is more environmental friendly. However, that isn’t quite the case. Millions of trees are cut down each year to make paper bags. In addition to the trees used to make the bags, paper bags actually use more energy to produce than plastic bags; 4 times the energy. Not only are paper bags using more energy, but they also cause air and water pollution. They produce 70% more water and 50% more air pollution.

While you can recycle paper bags, just like plastic, it takes a whole lot of energy to do so. The bags often are not even recycled into new bags, but into cardboard. So while many people think that paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags, they are just as bad. For more information about the harms of paper and plastic bags, check out a graphic the Washington Post put together. And always remember to bring your reusable bags!


I just can’t ever remember the dang bags. Help!

Keep reusable bags handy everywhere. You can find amazingly compact but very strong bags that easily fit into a purse, backpack, or briefcase. Keep some in your car. If you bike, you can get a removable basket you can take into the store. Do an online search — there are literally thousands of options to suit your style and budget.


What about the million other kinds of plastic bags besides grocery bags that I can’t seem to escape. Can they be recycled?

Just about any plastic bag can be recycled, including:

  • Retail, Newspaper, Dry Cleaning, Bread, Produce, and also other Plastic Bags labeled #2 and #4
  • Zip Close Food Storage bags  (clean and dry)
  • Furniture and Electronic wrap
  • Plastic cereal box liners  (if it tears like paper do not include)
  • Plastic shipping envelopes, including Tyvek ®, bubble wrap and air pillows (Remove labels and/or deflate)
  • Product Wrap (used on paper towels, diapers, bathroom tissue, water bottles)
  • Any film packaging or bag that has the How2Recycle Label


What types of plastic bags can’t be recycled?

Don’t recycle food or cling wrap, bags containing prepackaged foods such as frozen food bags or prewashed salad bags, and bio-based or compostable plastic bags.


What is made from recycled plastic bags?

Plastic bags can be used to make a variety of new products such as composite lumber, or new bags. They can even be used in the nanotechnology field. Composite lumber is a type of faux wood that is often used for outdoor railings or decks because of its durability. They are a mixture of plastic bags and wood scraps. Scientists are also working to develop methods to create carbon nanotube membranes from recycled plastic bags. These could be used for energy storage or for biomedical innovations.

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