Recycling Dilemma #1008: Plastic bags and film – Friend or Foe?

Paper or plastic? Environmentally conscious shoppers know the answer: none of the above. They know reusable totes beat paper or plastic every time. Forgoing plastic bags at the store has a big impact. But what about all the other plastic packaging in our lives? Film that wraps itself around our favorite snacks, air pillows and bubble wrap mailed to us daily, and newspaper bags magically appearing on our driveway.   

While it is most important to reduce our consumption of single use plastics such as bags and film, it’s nearly impossible to avoid these stretchy, sneaky plastics. They’re everywhere. Yet, they can’t be recycled in our curbside carts. They can, however, be easily recycled at local stores.  

Are these plastics all foes to the planet, or could they be recycled and reimagined as an eco-friendly material?  

The plastic bags and film that you recycle at the store are sold to manufacturers. They take on a second life as bottles and containers, plastic lumber, picnic tables, lawn furniture, playground equipment, recycling bins and more. Trex combines recycled film with reclaimed woods to create a wood-alternative decking and railing used in local parks, pathways and backyard patios.  

See how companies like Trex are reimagining plastic film as an Eco-friendly alternative to traditional wood lumber. 

Recycle these plastic films if they are clean and dry only: 

  • Air Pillows and Bubble Wrap 
  • Case Wrap, Pallet/Stretch Wrap 
  • Newspaper and Magazine Sleeves 
  • Bags on Clothing or Electronics 
  • Dry Cleaning Bags 
  • Bread Bags, Produce Bags, Food Storage Bags (but NOT frozen food or salad bags) 
  • Grocery/Retail Bags & Other Film Packages 

Please only recycle film that is clean and dry. Moisture causes mildew on film and cannot be accepted at stores. For a printable guide, click here.

Plastic bags and film can be recycled at participating locations such as all grocery stores in The Woodlands, the Precinct 3 Recycling Facility and department stores such as Walmart and Target. Look for a receptacle near the entrance or ask staff at the service desk.  Please note, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some locations may not be accepting plastics at this time. If either is the case, please collect your bags/wraps at home until events change. Bags/wraps can be compressed and stored inside another plastic bag. 

Plastic bags and bagged recyclables are not accepted in our curbside recycling cart program because sorting equipment is not designed to process it without damaging equipment or creating hazardous work conditions for staff. Find more information in Recycling Dilemma #1004 – To bag or not to bag

Check out these recycling tips from previous blogs:    

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov  

Recycling Dilemma #1007 K-Cups: How to stay caffeinated, sustainably

In 2013, roughly 10 billion Keurig brand coffee pods were sold. Popularity of single serving coffee makers has grown since then and manufacturers of pods are hesitant to reveal how many are sold annually. It is estimated that the amount of coffee pods, or K-Cups, in landfills could wrap around the planet 10 times! (The Story of Stuff) Imagine all the wasted coffee grounds that could be composted and all the aluminum and plastic could have been recycled into new products.

We love the convenience of coffee pods, but it comes with a cost: coffee pods cannot be recycled through our curbside program and are considered a contaminant. While some brands label their pods “recyclable” that holds true only in select communities with coffee pod recycling programs.  Currently, those programs are not operating in our region. 

Why cant I recycle them curbside? 

  1. Multiple materials comprise a coffee pod: an aluminum top, paper filter, coffee grounds and a plastic cup. Each material must be separated to be properly recycled, a process too complex for the current technology at standard recycling centers. 
  1. Although our curbside program accepts plastic and aluminum, both the plastic cup and aluminum components are too small to be properly sorted at the recycling facility. Anything smaller than 4 inches by 4 inches (like a post-it note size) falls through a screen and is landfilled with other small contaminants and residue.  

There is a way! 

You can recover your coffee pod aluminum by combining it with other clean aluminum into a ball 4” or larger and place it in your cart.  

Compost the coffee grounds and paper for a great soil additive. 

Take advantage of the one of several mail-in opportunities. These services separate the plastic and aluminum for recycling and the coffee and filter for composting. Check with the coffee pod maker for a free mail-in program. Terracycle, Recycle A Cup, and Grounds to Grow On also provide this service. 

Reduce your use 

If you’re ready to kick the single-use habit and reduce waste

Try another brewing method. Some coffee machines are compatible with a refillable K-cup or coffee pod option. French press espresso makers are capable of making smaller quantities of coffee and require no single use materials to brew.  

Check out these recycling tips from previous blogs:   

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Recycling Dilemma #1006 – Cut Out Contamination

Recycling conserves resources, saves energy, prevents pollution and reduces landfill space. We all have the best intentions to do right by recycling, but did you know that recycling correctly is just as important as deciding to recycle in the first place? 

In The Woodlands, we have a single-stream recycling program that allows all accepted recyclables to be placed in one container. Bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, cartons and glass can all go freely into one container, no sorting or bagging needed (in fact, you should never bag your recyclables). Because materials are commingled, they must be sorted when they get to the recycling center. 

Sorting equipment at the recycling center is designed  to sort only the items accepted in the program. All other items are considered contamination. Contamination damages equipment, creates unsafe work conditions for staff and decreases the value of recyclables. 

Did you know? In extreme cases, too much contamination can send an entire truck load of recyclables to the landfill. 


The most common contaminants to AVOID putting in your recycling cart are: 

  • Plastic Bags & Film – Return these to a local grocery store for proper recycling.  
  • Tanglers – No hoses, hangers, wires, chains or electronics. 
  • Clothing or Linens – Donate usable clothing and linens to local charitable organizations. Recycle items unsuitable for donation using the curbside Simple Recycling Textile Program.  
  • Food and Liquid – Recyclables must be clean; remember to empty and rinse all containers. Greasy pizza boxes, paper plates and towels belong in the trash. 
  • Styrofoam or #6 Plastic – Look for the symbol. Only plastics labelled #1-5 are accepted

When in doubt, throw it out! Even better, call The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department for help with recycling right, 281-210-3800. 


Please remember to always follow Waste Management guidelines which can be found on the lid of your recycling cart. For more recycling resources, visit the Township’s recycling webpage.  

Recycling Dilemma #1004 – To bag or not to bag

Free your recyclables!

Free your recyclables blog post

To bag or not to bag your recyclables? The answer is simple. Leave them loose! Plastic bags, film and flexible packaging are not accepted in our curbside carts. In fact, they’re the number one contaminant of our curbside recycling. If residents stopped bagging their recyclables our community would cut contamination by 50%. The value of recyclables is directly tied to how clean, or uncontaminated, they are. The success of the recycling industry is dependent on finding buyers for clean, quality recyclable materials.

Why aren’t bags allowed in our program?

In The Woodlands, we enjoy the convenience of a single stream recycling program in which all acceptable materials are deposited in one cart. However, the recyclables – plastic containers and bottles #1-5, cartons (think juice or soup), cardboard, paper, aluminum cans and glass containers – must be sorted once they reach the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).

During the initial stages of sorting, loose plastic bags and film are separated from the rest of the materials by hand. This takes a great deal of effort, and much of it slips by, wrapping around machinery and damaging equipment further down the line. MRFs have to shut down the processing line several times a day to remove plastic film entangled in the machines. This takes up valuable time and increases costs. It also creates unsafe working conditions for the individuals that must crawl into the machines to remove the film. Check out the video below to see the effects of plastic bags on MRF equipment.

The problem with bagging recyclables

When we bag our recyclables we cause a different problem – workers at the MRF can’t tell if the material inside is trash or recycling – and so the entire bag is often sent to the landfill and all those good recyclables go to waste.

Although plastic bags and films do not belong in our curbside carts they are recyclable and quite valuable. So gather up all forms of plastic film in your house and take it your local grocery store – almost every store has a receptacle at the front. The bags and film are bailed, sold and eventually turned into composite lumber for making decks, benches, and playground sets. Plastic film can also be reprocessed into small pellets, which are turned into new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe.

So let loose and free those recyclables!

Check out our website for more information about recycling and curbside services in The Woodlands.

Recycling Dilemma #1006 – Online Shopping

Shopping from the comfort of your home in your PJs is easy. Deciphering what to do with all the packaging that comes with those fabulous purchases is the hard part. Check out these tips to learn how to dispose of online shopping waste wisely.

Looking for ways to reduce packaging from online purchases? 

  • Try filling your cart throughout the week and combining purchases into one weekly delivery. Choose “Frustration-Free” Packaging to reduce extra boxes. 
  • Consider shopping at stores that use thoughtful packaging materials. As this concept becomes more mainstream, the demand will increase and gain popularity! 
  • Choose ground delivery to reduce air travel. This option can save you a bit of money and also reduces the carbon footprint of your package.  
  • Shop at local businesses and bring your own bag or containers.

Check out these recycling tips from previous blogs:  

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov