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Recycling Reusable Shopping Bags

Returnity Innovation's take-back program keeps reusable bags and related packaging in active use to reduce reliance on single-use plastics.

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1, Freelance Writer

June 5, 2024

2 Min Read
Returnity Innovation's mail-in plastic envelope used to recycle reusable shopping bags.Returnity Innovations

Recycling single-use plastic bags is old news to consumers and retailers using store drop-off for high- and low-density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE) bags and PE films, but we haven’t heard much about recycling reusable shopping bags — until now.

A new take-back service from Returnity Innovations, called “In Rotation”, addresses the glut of reusable bags in the marketplace and enables consumers to recycle those bags. The service accepts many types of reusable bags, even if they’re damaged.

On the accepted list are the reusable plastic shopping bags supermarkets and other retailers use to pack consumers’ purchases. Also accepted are nonwoven plastic bags, promotional bags from trade shows and other events, and woven cloth bags. However, single-use plastic bags, drawstring bags, backpacks, and luggage are not accepted.

Returnity’s goal is to keep reusable bags in active use and reduce reliance on single-use plastics. The scale of the issue is significant: The company claims that approximately 10 billion reusable bags were produced in 2023.

"Reusable bags seemed like an ideal solution to the single-use bag problem, but their widespread adoption only created a different waste issue. In Rotation aims to balance the scales by empowering consumers and retailers to actively participate in circularity," said Mike Newman, CEO of Returnity, in the launch announcement.

Newman’s inspiration for In Rotation came from the successful cell phone take-back programs he created for brands such as Walmart, AT&T, and Verizon.

Return and reuse bags.

Consumers can return their bags either in-store or by mail. To accommodate in-store returns, Returnity is installing take-back bins at retail sites nationwide. These In Rotation Boxes provide an easy, local recycling option.

If no participating retailer is nearby, consumers can make an online request for an In Rotation mailer to ship clean reusable bags back to Returnity. The mailer costs $20 and comes with a postage-paid return shipping label. Each mailer holds 10 to 20 reusable bags.

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The mailer’s price covers all program costs, including mailer production, outbound and return shipping, and bag processing.

When Returnity receives shipments of bags from consumers or retailers, the bags are sorted and inspected. Intact bags with no tears or large stains are sent to partners for reuse.

According to the company, more than 90% of the bags it receives are still reusable. In Rotation bags reduce the number of new reusable bags Returnity’s partner organizations must buy, thus delivering financial and sustainability benefits.

Bags that are too damaged, dirty, or off-size for reuse are sorted by material type for further processing. That includes recycling of monomaterial bags and other recyclable flexibles.

About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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