How to Prevent Pollution by Upcycling or Recycling Plastic and Paper Bags

San Franciscans have gotten used to putting a sack of their own shopping bags by the front door, in their cars, or in their backpacks to be used at the grocery store or shopping in general to avoid paying for a bag and reduce use of paper or plastic.

A few weeks ago, things changed in San Francisco to help prevent – or at least, minimize – the spread of COVID-19.

Among grocery employees and patrons, shoppers can no longer use their own shopping bags at most stores. Cloth bags are now temporarily banned because most are made from either recycled plastics or porous fabrics, where clusters of COVID-19 could, theoretically, survive anywhere between 24 to 48 hours. That is why many stores are now providing paper bags at no cost to customers. It may take some time for people to adjust to this new – temporary – rule, and the SFPUC hopes that everyone continues to keep San Francisco in mind as they decide what to do with a surplus of paper and plastic bags.

“I’ve noticed paper and plastic bags flying around and getting into the storm drains” said, Autumn Cleave, SFPUC Pollution Prevention Specialist. “These will not only clog the storm drains, but also pollute our environment – as you know sometimes these plastic bags end in our Bay and Ocean.”

Paper bags can be reused or recycled.

While there are endless creative possibilities into reusing bags, Cleave offered some suggestions:

Brown Paper Bags:

  • Use to recycle & compost
  • Ripen fruits by storing them in a paper bag
  • Keep a few in your car for when you need an extra bag
  • Make homemade popcorn
  • Clean windows
  • Use them to wrap glassware and breakables
  • Create arts and crafts
  • Cut out rectangles to use them as placemats. Kids can have fun decorating or coloring them
  • Save and use them for gift-wrapping or making flower arrangements
  • Recycle them by putting in the recycle bin

Plastic bags:

  • Use it as a trash bag/ liner
  • Keep a few in your car for when you need an extra bag
  • Save and re-use them (e.g., to keep items dry in the rain or for shoes when packing a suitcase)
  • Keep paint brushes & rollers or line a paint tray
  • Make “Plarn” for household crafts.

“Let’s continue to make lifestyle changes for the betterment of the environment and for San Francisco,” said Cleave. “And, remember, only rain down the drain – no plastic, no paper bags or any kind of litter belong on our streets or storm drains.”

Some plastic bags can be recycled or reused as trash bags.