4R’s Tip – More Soft Plastics, Food Packaging and What To Do About It

If the recycling of plastics we’ve been doing for decades had worked, all the packaging we buy today would be made from recycled materials. It’s not.

Less than 9% has ever been recycled

Click here if you’re new to Jen’s blog and want to know what it’s all about.

Produce Bags and Food Packaging

There’s always more to talk about when it comes to soft plastics. In addition to the shopping bags and food storage I talked about last week, there is the plastic that comes as the packaging on most foods we buy and the produce bags we use.

These soft plastics cannot easily be recycled. Food packaging or produce bags are a different type of plastic that is flimsy and not dense enough to be recycled into more plastics. And if it was wrapped around meat or contaminated by the food it can’t be recycled.

Produce Bags

Thin plastic produce bags are weaker than shopping bags so they can’t be reused for long before they tear and can’t be recycled. They have to go in the trash. Here are some ways to avoid using them.

  • Reusable mesh produce bags are inexpensive and easy to stuff in your shopping bag, pocket, or purse. I found some online that I’ve used for years. I bought a ten-pack that came in a variety of sizes and can be tossed in the laundry when they get dirty, which happens when I shop at the farmers market.
    • You can even buy planet-friendly produce bags at Mesh Produce Bags.
    • Grocery chain Aldi started using biodegradable plastic produce bags and charging one cent for them in 2019. They also started offering a reusable alternative you can buy.
  • Toss your produce directly in one of your reusable shopping bags. You’re going to wash the produce anyway so no reason to put it in a disposable bag. Use cloth or mesh bags to store it in your frig. No one says you have to use a bag, so why not skip it completely. 
    • Put some items directly in your cart, like melons. 

Plastic Food Packaging

A lot of food in grocery stores is wrapped in plastic these days, I swear it sometimes feels invisible. The plastic wraps that come on food products all go in the trash. These are usually softer plastic than shopping bags and can’t go in collection bins as stores to be recycled. Here are some tricks to cutting back on these.

  • Buy food in bulk. Nuts, pretzels, crackers and sweets, as well as baking goods, can be found in bulk food aisles. 
    • Bring your own container whenever possible; you might want to ask at the store if this is okay. Some groceries like Sprouts, Whole Foods, Winco and Krogers have bulk and may let you bring your own container. However, some states in the US have FDA laws that prevent this. If a grocer has an issue with it try these tricks to reduce using plastic bags in the bulk aisle. 
      • Ask if they have paper bags available, if you don’t see any. 
      • If you have to use them, wash and reuse the plastic bags. Once they’re clean, toss them in your reusable shopping bag or stick them in your purse for next time. These bags are often a stronger plastic so you can get a number of reuses out of them. 
  • Buy from a grocery warehouse to reduce the amount of soft plastic that comes wrapped around your food and other goods.
  • Buy meat from a meat counter and make sure to tell them to wrap it in paper, not plastic. Paper may be coated in plastic to protect you and your food, but the amount used is a lot less compared to how much is used for prepackaged meats, and none of it can be recycled.
    • In my area I have a lot of grocery stores near me but have to drive across town to a Sprouts for a meat counter. I try to do one stop for all my meats when I’m on that side of town.
  • Avoid prepackaged produce. This is unnecessary plastic you can easily avoid. The best thing to do is shop at a farmer’s market or a grocery with a good produce section without a lot of packaging.

Why It’s Important

According to the EPA, there were 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging produced in 2018. That’s just in the US. Reducing how much we use this packaging is pretty important. It’s one of those soft plastics that won’t easily recycle and do a lot of damage in our oceans and landfills.

The softer the plastic the less likely it can be recycled.

The less dense the molecular structure of a plastic material the easier it comes apart. These lightweight soft plastics, like produce and shopping bags, break down into microplastics a lot quicker than their harder counterparts. Microplastics are what scientists are finding in our food and water systems, and studies have shown the average person will ingest about 40 pounds of plastics in their lifetime. They are found in marine life and are contributing to the extinction of some species.


Curbside, residential, and even commercial recycling programs do not take plastic bags or soft plastics. Please take them to a store collection.

With Much Gratitude

That’s it for this week. I hope this helped. Please drop me a line anytime if you have questions or comments. I love hearing from you.

Along with a number of very hard-working people, I’m waging an all-out war. A fight for our planet. Please join me and consider supporting my efforts. I do not get paid to write this blog and none of the products I recommend sponsor me, so any support you can send my way would help, even just a few bucks.

Thank you for reading these tips and subscribing. I would like to hear from you if you find anything challenging or helpful in these tips. Working together is how we’ll get this done.

Pat yourself on the back for doing your part. Remember, every little bit helps. Don’t fuss if you aren’t always able to do this stuff, keep trying, and don’t give up. It takes about 21 days to build a habit.

All my best, 


jen.thilman (at) gmail.com
or from the Contact page

Success! You're on the list.