For what feels like forever now, I have been taking steps to make my kitchen more eco-friendly, and some of the best things I did on my journey were finding more eco-friendly kitchen products, using zero waste food apps, and making my fridge plastic free!
Did you know you can freeze meat without plastic? I didn’t! These adjustments have been a game changer for me, but now I face a new challenge: my pantry.
My zero waste pantry is full of different kinds of bags and bins, and it can be tough to know how to reuse or recycle them. Take ziplock bags, for example… Can you recycle ziplock bags? What are they made of? Can you reuse them?
If you are like me and have found yourself asking these same questions, you’re in luck!
What are ziplock bags?
To answer this question, we must understand all the different types of plastic. Ziplock bags are low-density polyethylene plastic (#4), or LDPE for short.
LDPE first rose to fame in 1933 because it is very flexible and moisture-resistant, making it a handy material for storing and packing food. LDPE is known as ‘soft plastic,’ You can also find it in most grocery and produce bags.
According to Good Housekeeping, ziplock bags first came on the market in the 60s and were meant to be used for boiling - yes, boiling! You were supposed to submerge them (with your food contents inside) in boiling water on the stovetop to heat your food.
Consumers didn’t start using ziplock bags for storing food until about a decade later, and by 1973, ziplock bags were a staple in every household. In 1997, S.C. Johnson Company acquired the ziplock trademark and has been behind the infamous product ever since.
Ziplock bags have also undergone various design changes to make them more user-friendly. In 2006, the secure double zipper was praised for keeping food fresher than ever before.
Other brands took notice and eventually released their product variations, including Hefty and Glad-Lock bags, but Ziplock is still the most popular choice among consumers.
Can you recycle Ziplock bags?
It depends on where you live and whether or not they take soft plastics.
As I mentioned earlier, ziplock bags are #4 LDPE plastic. LDPE is recyclable in some recycling centers but this isn't a common standard, and you can’t toss ziplock bags in your curbside collection blue bins like you can with other kinds of plastic.
Soft plastics like ziplock and grocery bags can cause contamination at recycling centers and clog the recycling machinery. When this happens, ziplock bags and other LDPE bags merge with recyclable plastic, creating quite a mess!
If your local recycling center does happen to take LDPE plastic, you also need to take food contamination into account! Throwing plastic that still has food on it into the recycling bin can contaminate the entire bin, and the receiving facility might end up having to throw it all out as a result.
All of this extra hassle can be a huge cost to recycling facilities. To add to the issue, LDPE is so flimsy and thin that it usually can only be recycled once.
This is a BIG downside considering other plastic can be recycled up to ten times! Even some surprising products in your pantry, like paper plates, can be recycled several times as long as they aren’t soiled with food.
Some specialized independent programs will take hard-to-recycle items like ziplock bags, but most companies are still working on a solution. For example, TerraCycle partnered with Ziploc to try and solve this issue with silicone and created the Endurables Program.
According to Terracycle, you only need to download a free shipping label to ship your empty ‘Ziploc® Endurables™’ silicone pouches and containers to TerraCycle.
They will recycle it for you! They have yet to create a similar program for their LDPE single-use bags, but one with zero waste kitchen goals can only dream!
Another great example for my Canadian readers is the cities of Toronto and Vancouver! The City of Toronto website lists “soft stretchy plastic” like grocery, sandwich, and bread bags as items in the blue bin for curbside pickup.
British Columbia has a similar system. Instead of throwing ziplock bags in a blue bin, customers can bring their flexible plastic items to the Vancouver Zero Waste Centre (or other nearby depots), where they will be properly recycled.
The Environmental Protection Agency has great resources for my US-based readers on recycling common household items.
I recommend checking out their Plastic Recycling Website to find a nearby drop-off location. Earth911 also has an extensive recycling database (for all ZIP codes) with information on over 350 materials!
If you can't recycle ziplock bags, REUSE THEM!…
This is to say that, unfortunately, you can’t always recycle ziplock bags (and you can blame the Ziploc bag recycle number for this). However, you CAN reuse ziplock bags!
Over the years, I have found a few ways to upcycle ziplock bags lying around, preventing food waste and saving money simultaneously. Here are my favorite ways to upcycle and reuse ziplock bags:
- Just wash them (and be sure to use zero waste dish soap)! It's worth noting that if your ziplock bag cannot be cleaned and reused, it should be thrown in the trash.
- Use ziplock bags to hold nails, screws, and other small items you can lose easily! Or is that just me?
- Use them to store dirty socks and underwear when you are traveling.
- Ziplock bags can come in handy for storing jewelry and the flimsy parts of earrings.
- Use ziplock bags as a phone cover when you are out on the ocean or lake or even catching up on Netflix in the bathtub.
- After your day at the beach, you can use ziplock bags to store your wet bathing suit.
- If you are in an… ahem… stinky situation, you can use them to clean up after your dog. Zero waste dogs? Yes, please!
But wait, can you reuse ziplock bags safely? If you don't use the ziplock bag to store moldy food before reusing it, you will be fine! But if you are reusing them to store food, I would recommend giving the ziplock bag a rinse first just to be safe.
Best Alternatives to Ziploc bags
The ideas above are great ways to reuse ziplock bags you might already have lying around, but how do you avoid them altogether? What are some of the best alternatives to ziplock bags? If you are looking for plastic-free food storage alternatives for your zero waste meals… Keep reading!
I've used all of these options, and they are all excellent eco-friendly kitchen products that will help you reduce waste in your home!
1. Beeswax Wraps
Beeswax wraps are a god-sent if you are trying to preserve foods like cheese, fruits, veggies, and sandwiches. Made from cotton and infused with either beeswax or plant-based waxes, beeswax wraps are tacky and can be molded to fit the shape of many different foods.
I love using Beeswax wraps for food items like sandwiches, cheese, fruits, and vegetables, helping to keep them fresh for longer periods.
Although I have to say one of the things I love the most about beeswax wrap is that it’s so easy to clean! The wrap is naturally antibacterial, so you don't have to clean it much; spot cleaning usually does the job. But if your beeswax wrap gets quite dirty, all you have to do is rinse under cold water with a tiny bit of soap and, voila, good as new.
2. Bowl covers
Bowl covers are so convenient! I love the ones from Your Green Kitchen, plus their mason jar covers are just about the cutest things I have ever seen.
Fabric bowl covers are a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrap or aluminum foil for covering bowls and dishes.
They are typically made from organic cotton, linen, or other sustainable materials and are designed to fit snugly over bowls and containers to protect food and keep it fresh.
There are many benefits to using fabric bowl covers. They are reusable and can be washed and reused repeatedly.
Fabric bowl covers are more attractive than plastic wrap or aluminum foil. They come in various colors and patterns and can add a touch of style to your kitchen while reducing your environmental impact.
They are versatile, and I've used them to cover various bowls and dishes, including salad bowls, casserole dishes, and baking pans. I love how breathable they are, allowing air to circulate the food and keeping it fresh for longer.
Fabric bowl covers are very easy to use. Simply place the cover over the bowl or dish and adjust it to fit snugly. Most covers are designed to be machine washable, making them a convenient and practical choice for busy households.
3. Mason jars
Speaking of mason jars… they are a better alternative to storing food than plastic! While glass has its eco-issues, it can be reused repeatedly, which is usually a better choice in the long run. Plus, mason jars can be used for soooo many things!
I can't live without them! I use them for food storage, as the jars are airtight and help keep food fresh for longer periods.
I use them for bulk shopping. Instead of using single-use plastic bags, I fill the jars with dry goods like grains, beans, and nuts.
Mason jars can also be used as reusable water bottles, as they are sturdy and come with a lid to prevent spills. I've can be used for DIY projects, such as making homemade jams, pickles, or even candles.
I've even used them for decoration, as they have a classic, vintage look and can be used as vases or candle holders. Overall, glass mason jars are versatile, durable, and an excellent choice for a zero-waste lifestyle.
I even recently heard from a reader they were using a mason jar as an urban indoor compost bin for wintertime.
4. Veggie bags
Vejibag is a company that produces organic cotton bags to keep vegetables fresh without using harmful chemicals or plastic. The founder, Sally Erickson, combined the tradition of keeping veggies in cool, damp environments with the concept of reusable cloth bags to create Vejibags.
Starting in her living room, she sent greenhouse-grown produce in bags and collaborated with other women in her community to sew them. The Vejibag gained popularity and is now a successful business that benefits both the environment and the community.
Initially, I hesitated to buy this bag because of its price, but its performance pleasantly surprised me. As someone who struggles with being unable to finish produce before it goes bad, I decided to try it. I used the large bag to store a head of romaine lettuce, celery, and carrots, and to my amazement, everything stayed fresh for weeks.
I even forgot about the romaine for 2-3 weeks, and it was still crisp when I took it out, which is rare. I have recommended it to four other people, who are all happy with their purchase. I plan on getting the XL bag too. Using this bag has reduced my food waste, and I love how crunchy my produce stays. Overall, I highly recommend it.
5. Tupperware containers
You might be asking, “isn’t Tupperware plastic?”. Yes, it is. But as I said before, reusing a product over and over (especially when it’s a product you already have lying around) is usually better than using a single-use item once.
Tupperware containers also have other reuse options beyond food storage! You can reuse old Tupperware containers to store office supplies, makeup, or arts and crafts materials. Another idea is to reuse old smaller Tupperware as planters for when you propagate new baby plants.
6. Silicone bags
I have mixed feelings about silicone. Silicone polymers can come in the form of liquids, gels, rubber, foams, or solids, and it's a super popular material for food storage since it's bendable and heat resistant. But, like most synthetic polymers, it's not biodegradable.
I am adding silicone to this list because it’s so durable. This means silicone products can be used hundreds of times… maybe more! It's also non-toxic compared to other kinds of plastic and will not leach dangerous chemicals into our food.
7. Paper bags
Lastly, storing food in paper bags is a better alternative than ziplock. While not super durable, paper can be recycled in most areas as long as it's not spoiled with food or oils. But if you use paper bags to store wet food, they can usually be composted.
A Final Word on Recycling ziplock bags
So, can you recycle ziplock bags?
Although Ziploc bags and similar plastic sandwich bags are technically recyclable, recycling them is often challenging and not easily accessible. This may be why many individuals choose not to recycle these bags properly.
In some areas, Ziplock bags can’t be recycled and can contaminate recycling streams and clog up recycling machinery when thrown into a blue bin. So make sure to always check with your local recycling program!
Lucky for us, there are tons of different ways we can reuse the ziplock bags we already have lying around in our pantry, and next time you are out at the store, try to purchase some more eco-friendly alternatives instead! You will be on your way to a zero-waste pantry in no time.
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