Can all paper bags be recycled?

7 min read

March 29, 2022

Paper bags are often hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bags but can all types of paper bags be recycled? 

You’re probably used to seeing (and using) paper bags by now. From carrier bags to gift bags and flat sweet bags, paper bags are becoming more popular as we all take steps to protect the environment from plastic pollution. 

But do you know if all paper bags can actually be recycled?

Paper bags aren’t made from the same material as traditional plastic bags and there are many factors to consider when determining if they can be recycled or not.  The material, colour and ink of the bag all have an impact on whether it can be recycled so it’s important to know what to look for when recycling your own paper bags at home. 

Read on to find out whether or not all types of paper bags can be recycled. 

Can all paper bags be recycled?

The great news for the environment is that yes, paper bags can be recycled, but only if they're actually made from paper. Whilst most plastic bags, for example, are not recyclable, almost all types of paper bags can be recycled, helping to reduce the amount of plastic landfill sitting on the earth and polluting our oceans. Thanks to the fact that paper bags are made out of paper which is biodegradable and can be turned back into pulp to start the process of making paper again, paper bags can be recycled. 

There is only one type of paper bag that can’t be recycled. Laminated paper bags add a layer of plastic film to the paper and are often used to line paper bags being used to carry food and perishable items. This lamination process however means that laminated paper bags cannot be recycled. 

All other types of paper bags from brown paper bags to paper bags with handles and flat paper bags can be popped into your recycling bin and returned back to paper pulp. 

Are paper bags compostable?

Can paper bags go in your compost bin? The simple answer is yes. Paper bags are biodegradable and can be composted just like any other paper products, such as newspaper and cardboard boxes. Composting is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to dispose of everyday household waste such as kitchen scraps whilst helping to protect the environment. Compost acts as a great natural fertiliser for the earth which makes it an ideal option for green-fingered gardeners who are looking to ensure their gardens are as sustainable as possible. 

The ideal ingredients for a compost bin are brown paper, cardboard, dead leaves, grass clippings and food waste which means you can add your brown paper bags straight into your compost bin without worry. When it comes to waxed or laminated paper bags, determining whether or not they are compostable is a little trickier. It all depends on the type of wax or coating that the bag has been treated with. If it’s natural then you should be fine to add them to your compost bin but some waxes contain additives that are poisonous to worms and microbes so be extra careful! 

How to recycle paper bags

In order to recycle paper bags and turn them back into paper to potentially be made into a brand new paper bag, the bags must be shredded, boiled and turned back into paper pulp. The paper pulp is then pressed to remove water and is rolled out into new sheets of paper. These sheets of paper will then be used to make various different paper items including, you guessed it, paper bags. To recycle your paper bags you can simply add them to your recycling bin to be collected by your local waste collection agency. Alternatively you can take your paper bags to recycling centres yourself.

Recycling paper bags is particularly useful as you can use the bags to collect your other recyclable items (such as glass bottles or tin cans) and carry them to your recycling centre. Once there you can recycle everything, returning home with no waste. Remember to remove pieces of paper bags that have elements such as paint, glue or lamination on them before adding them to your recycling bin as these can all cause havoc with the recycling process. 

How to compost paper bags

Composting is one of those activities that’s surrounded in a bit of mystery. We don’t really understand how it works, but what we do know is that compost is good for our gardens and helpful for protecting the planet. Composting paper bags is pretty simple and when you’re done, your bags will have transformed into rich soil that can help plants grow.

All you need to start composting paper bags is a compost bin in your garden. Fill the bottom of your bin with garden waste such as soil, dead leaves and grass cuttings and then add your compostable waste and kitchen scraps on top. Once the worms and microbes have begun to digest the compostable waste in your bin you can add your paper and card. Be careful not to overfill your compost bins with paper and slowly the creatures inside will digest the paper and begin to create the perfect natural fertiliser for the land.

Are paper bags biodegradable?

Paper bags are made of paper, which is derived from trees. When paper decomposes, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes part of your garden soil and eventually merges with carbon. This means that yes, paper bags are biodegradable. 

Paper bags take just a few months to fully biodegrade however if they aren't properly discarded (e.g. recycled or composted) then they may find their way into landfills where they can remain intact for years before degrading. Paper bags take longer to decompose in landfill sites as they aren’t in the right conditions to break down quickly. The best way to ensure your paper bags biodegrade as quickly as possible is to add them to compost, that way you can be sure they aren’t filling up already overwhelmed landfill sites.

How to reuse paper bags

The great thing about paper bags is that thanks to their durability and the evolution of the manufacturing process, they can often be reused multiple times before being recycled or composted. Yes, it might be a bit of a pain to do so, but every paper bag you don’t throw away is one less bag in a landfill. When you go shopping try to remember to take your paper bags with you to bring home your groceries or if you need a way to carry your lunch to the office, opt for one of your paper bags rather than a plastic alternative.

There are also various ways you can use paper bags around the house such as for bin liners, arts and crafts projects and to collect your other recycling. You can also use them to protect packages, clean windows and for pet tray lining. 

Are brown paper bags recyclable?

Yes! Brown paper bags are made from brown paper otherwise known as kraft paper which is fully recyclable. 

Just like other paper bags there are a few exceptions. If your brown paper bag falls into any of the categories below then you won’t be able to recycle it. Try to reuse it before throwing it away or check if it can be added to your compost bin!

  • Brown paper bags with a wax coating
  • Brown paper bags with paint on 
  • Brown paper bags with glitter on
  • Brown paper bags with glue on
  • Brown paper bags that are soaking wet (the wet paper will stick to the recycling machines and clog them up!)

Can you recycle paper bags with cardboard?

If you’re sorting your recycling out yourself (e.g. you’re taking it to your local recycling centre) rather than adding it all to one recycling bin, then you may be wondering where to place your paper bags.

Do you recycle them with your newspaper or with your cardboard?

The answer is that you should place your brown paper bags with your cardboard. This is because they haven’t been bleached unlike paper such as newspapers and writing paper and therefore still retain good fibre which means it's much easier to recycle them. 

More information on paper bags

For more information on paper bags, how to get the best use out of them and of course, how to recycle them to best protect our environment, get in touch with the Bestpac team today. 

Our innovative paper packaging solutions are sustainable, biodegradable and recyclable and are made to the highest quality to ensure the end product is durable and functional. 

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