Bread Bags Recycling In The UK, US And Canada

For the packaging of bread, buns and tortillas, plastic polyethylene bags are the most sustainable material in terms of resource utilization, water consumption and product/package ratio. However, the end of life for plastic bread bags is a challenge and they usually end up in landfills. Plastics in general are not the problem, it is what people and municipalities do with the plastics at the end of life that end up creating the issues.

Bread bags are usually made of polyethylene film, a very thin plastic with a resin identification code of #4 for LDPE (low density polyethylene), which makes it great in terms of efficiency when transporting the packaging materials to the bakeries and generating the least amount of waste, but it is difficult to collect and recycle.

There are many issues with recycling thin plastics like bread bags, starting with very low consumer participation in recycling programs, lack of infrastructure to collect, sort and process the waste, lack of incentives for recyclers to collect and sell the waste, and few end uses for the recycled material. These are critical issues affecting recycling rates, even in countries with more advance recycling systems like Germany and Switzerland. But this is the subject of other posts on this site, please refer to our recycling section.

In the US, bread bags cannot be collected curbside, but they can be taken to collection points outside of retail stores like Walmart and Target, under the How2Recycle® Store Drop-Off program. Over 90% of the US population live within 10 miles of a collection point, making it easy and accessible.

In the UK, bread bags cannot be recycled curbside at the moment. Bags can be dropped off at collection bins outside of local supermarkets like Asda, Co-op and Tesco.

The UK government is working to establish a better recycling system in order to improve recycling rates for flexible packaging, including bread bags, and make collection possible kerbside, but this a longer-term goal for 2023 and beyond.

In Canada, bread bags can be recycled via curbside collection in the recycling bin in most cities. This is great news because simplifying access to recycling is one of the best way to increase recycling rates. Consumers can also bring their bags to the Store Drop-Off collection bins outside of major retailers.

In call cases, after the bags are collected, they get shredded, cleaned and pelletized, and are used to make composite lumber for park benches and decks, or they are used to make new bags. Making a new product out of a used bread bag is certainly the goal, but we need to start by collecting the bags. Consumer participation is key, let’s be part of the solution and do our part to improve recycling rates for bread bags and other soft plastics!
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