Should paper bags be recycled or composted or thrown away?

Posted by Lisa on December 19, 2022
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    If you've ever bought anything in a store, chances are you've encountered paper bags. You might have noticed that some stores or brands use paper bags while others use plastic ones. Both types of bags have advantages and disadvantages, but one thing they have in common is that they're both disposable—you can't wash them or reuse them. So what happens to all those used paper bags? There are three ways to deal with them: recycling, composting and disposal.

    Recycling paper bags

    Paper bags can be recycled with other paper products.

    If you have a curbside recycling bin, you can place paper bags in that bin. If you don't have curbside service, take the bag to a drop-off location near you and ask for it to be sorted out of your recycling stream. Some grocery stores will also accept paper bags for free—just ask!

    How to tell whether a paper bag is recyclable

    A paper bag is made of paper and plastic. If the bag is made of paper and plastic, it can be recycled. A paper bag is also sometimes made of only paper. If the bag is made of only paper, it can be composted instead. Finally, a plastic grocery bag will have some type of plastic coating on its surface that makes it waterproof or shiny and smooth in appearance—it's hard to tell just by looking at one if this type of material is recyclable or not! In these cases, throw the bags away because they cannot be recycled or composted due to their unique characteristics as plastic grocery sacks

    Composting paper and plastic bags

    Composting is the process of breaking down organic material like food scraps into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. It's a great way to reduce your waste and improve your garden, but it can get complicated—and confusing!

    Composting paper and plastic bags is not recommended because they don't break down in the home compost bin. Paper bags will take months or even years to decompose, while plastic bags take decades. When you try to add these items to your compost pile, they will just sit there as large chunks of non-decomposing material that takes up valuable space in your bin and adds unnecessary weight on top of all the other ingredients. You'll want to throw them away instead!

    Can you compost paper lunch bags?

    Yes, you can compost paper lunch bags. In fact, many people run them through a food waste digester in their kitchens to make nutrient-rich fertilizer for their gardens. If you don’t have a digester and still want to add some of your old lunch bags to the pile, here are some tips:

    • Remove any food or liquids before tossing them into your compost bin
    • Do not use plastic containers or wrappers with your paper bag scraps--they won’t break down as quickly as the other materials


    If you’re using a paper bag and would like to recycle it, there are several options. Recycled paper bags can be turned into new paper bags, insulation and even toilet paper rolls. When recycled, the fibers from the bag are broken down into smaller pieces of cellulose which can then be used in other products like the ones listed above.

    Paper bags are also compostable if you live in an area where your curbside recycling service accepts them (this is often limited to larger cities). In this case, they will usually be collected separately from other types of trash as part of your regular curbside recycling pickup routine; some cities also offer free drop-off locations for composting materials if you don’t want to wait until your next pickup day! Composting involves breaking down organic materials (like food waste) into a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can support growth in gardens or farms.

    Paper bags can be recycled or composted.

    Paper bags can be recycled and composted. If you're in a city, you'll likely have access to recycling bins that accept paper products. If your community doesn't offer this service, you can still dispose of your paper bags in the trash. Unfortunately, some areas don't allow paper grocery bags to be recycled and must go into the garbage instead.

    If you want to recycle or compost your paper bags—or keep them out of landfills altogether—you should look into backyard composting options or buying reusable shopping totes!

    What are paper bags made of?

    Paper bags are made from paper. Paper is made from trees!

    That's right—paper, one of the most common materials you will find in your daily life, is actually a renewable resource that comes from trees. When paper is made, it's created by pressing together wood pulp and adding water. The resulting product can be used for many different things, including making paper bags.

    At first glance, it might seem like all paper bags are made from recycled materials (since they look like recycled newspapers), but this isn't necessarily true. Some bag makers use virgin wood pulp to create their products because it's easier to work with than recycled newspaper or magazines (the latter two being very soft). But other companies have found fun ways to add more recycled material into their bag-making process so that every item they produce has an eco-friendly feel to it!

    Are paper bags biodegradable?

    Paper bags are naturally biodegradable, but they can take a while to break down. It varies from paper bag to paper bag and depends on what kind of pulp was used, the size of the bag, and how long it takes for your compost pile to get hot enough for breaking down to begin. In general, however, you're looking at about six months for a small paper bag in ideal conditions (a hot pile with plenty of oxygen).

    Paper is made from trees after all—so should we treat it as such? Composting is definitely an option here. As long as you're not using toxic materials like Styrofoam cups or plastic bags (which will never decompose), paper products are safe to add into your compost bin along with vegetable peels and coffee grounds. You'll be able to put these aside when they're finished being used so that they can be recycled later on when they're no longer useful.*

    Will paper bags decompose in a landfill?

    Unfortunately, paper bags will not decompose in a landfill. Landfills are designed to contain waste and prevent it from escaping into the environment. This means that it's difficult for natural processes such as decay to occur. The paper used in grocery bags is not biodegradable and can last for hundreds of years without breaking down. While this may seem like a huge amount of time for something so small, it's actually just one part of the overall lifespan of your garbage—and even if you never throw away another plastic bag again, there will still be tons of other trash around long after your old shopping bags break down!

    What happens when you recycle a paper bag?

    When you recycle a paper bag, the process looks something like this: First, the bag is sorted and baled by type. The “recycled” paper bags are then shipped off to be pulped (the process of breaking down fibers) into new paper or converted into cellulose fiber for use in other products, such as insulation and packaging materials. This being said, it's important to understand that recycling your plastic or paper products does not mean that they have ended up in some sort of magical land where all trash becomes compost material—it means that those items have been repurposed for new purposes such as making new bags or other types of plastic items.

    Can I compost my paper bag?

    Composting is better than recycling but not as good as throwing away. Paper bags are not a good compost material, because they will take longer to break down and attract rodents, who can contaminate the rest of your compost pile. To make them more suitable for composting, tear apart any bags that you plan to throw away into smaller pieces (like torn up newspaper) and add them to your bin. Bags made of recycled materials may be more likely to break down if their contents are removed before addition to the pile (for example, glass jars or aluminum cans).

    If you really want to use paper bags in your garden (and not just throw them away), check with your local waste department or recycling company first; some places do accept these items if they are placed curbside properly labeled so they get picked up correctly!


    If you’re wondering what to do with your paper bags, we hope this article has given you some clarity on the options available. Paper bags are recyclable and can be composted, but they also need to be disposed of responsibly in order for those processes to work. If you have any questions about how recycling works or whether or not your paper bag is recyclable, contact us at our local recycling center today!

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