The simple truth is that plastic bags -- along with most yogurt and milk containers and a wide variety of other packaging -- can be recycled. That's the good news. Unfortunately, at least according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 8 percent of all plastics were recycled in 2010, meaning that billions of bags and bottles ended up in landfills or, worse, in oceans, streams and trees [source: EPA].
Nevertheless, the fact remains that, for many resins, recycling is possible, and there are a number of companies across the U.S. -- including Industrial Resin Recycling Inc. in Michigan -- that handle that.
"Basically, these companies gather all the different post-industrial resin products, whether it be plastic seat covers, plastic wire casings or any plastic defective parts," says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers, a Web site that provides personal finance as well as sustainability coverage and advice. "These products are then melted into large chunks of plastic. In turn, those are ground or shredded and reduced for reuse."
Although still a niche market compared to traditionally produced resins, bio-based plastics are becoming more common. One indication of their growth is the variety of products that now use resins made of such material as corn and sugarcane. For example, recyclable Dasani water bottles are made with up to 30 percent plant material. But plant-based resins are in all sorts of other packaging materials besides bottles, including bags and other containers, as well as less obvious items such as car parts and components. Learn more about these sustainable resin options on the next page.