As plastic bags continue to get banned across the nation and world — San Diego is the latest major U.S. city to ban plastic bags — they’ve started to feel like public enemy no. 1.
They’re known for ending up in oceans, looking unsightly in tree branches, and not being recycled curbside. But are they really all bad? The situation is complicated, as a recent Grist article explored. Alternatives like paper bags come with their own carbon footprint (which is higher than that of plastic bags) and reusable cotton bags require tons of water to produce and are generally not recyclable. Some reusable bags need to be used more than 100 times before they’re better for the environment.
While there’s no one right solution to carrying groceries home, plastic bag users can take comfort in the fact that these bags are recyclable, even if your local curbside program doesn’t collect them. If you’re wondering why that is, one big reason is that plastic bags are difficult to process, even with advances in machinery — so they’re better off going to facilities specifically set up to recycle them.