The Tragic Optimist

my environmental conundrum

Minneapolis has a recycling program (like nearly every city).  We set out a variety of recyclables, and most of them need to go in paper bags.

Chris and I have started trying to be better about using cloth bags when we grocery shop in the past year.  (I bet you can see where this is going).  Now we’ve run out of paper bags for the recycling to go into.  What’s a good environmentalist to do?

The only solution I can see is to ask for paper bags every third or so trip to the grocery store, so we keep a small stock of paper bags.  Am I missing some other obvious solution?  Is there some sort of paper bag trading post?



  1. Wow – good for you. I wish I’d be able to run out of paper recycling bags! Maybe that should be my goal for the next few months. Seems like a reasonable question…I hope someone has a solution!

  2. Gus

    What about sorting them into stackable, re-usable plastic tubs/bins? In Austin, they ask you to sort your recycleables (sp?), and that was how I made it work. The city provided the first bin, I got others to use. What way, I could keep the bins in the garage, and do a sort-as-I-go system.

  3. wow thats annoying! all my recelying just goes into a big blue bin!!

  4. We did the “paper bags when we need them” routine until we finally got off our lazy rears to get a city-issued blue bin. If MPLS isn’t issuing them, can you put it out in milk crates or rubbermaid tubs? (The risk there, for us at least, is that if the recycling guys come before the trash guys, the trash guys decide that our milk crates/tubs are trash – yes, this has happened more than once.)

  5. katherined

    We’re running into the same thing. I haven’t actually tried separating into tubs rather than bags, but that is worth a try. We’ve been operating under a ‘get paper bags at target/use our own cloth bags everywhere else’ scheme for awhile, because a) i like the size of paper bags at target for recycling -they fit our bins nicely-, and b) the people at my target seem to be the least used to people using their own bags. I wish Minneapolis didn’t require the separating, but it probably does save the city money to have us do the separating.

  6. We have a recycling bin, but on the Mpls recycling webpage it specifically states that, “all recycling must be placed in separate paper bags.” There are a few exceptions, but the types of recycling that we have the most of (aluminum, glass, plastic, office paper, etc) have to be in a paper bag.

    I suppose just deciding to get paper at one place, like Target is one way to remember. Though I do really love my reusable Target bags, they’re probably my favorite – sturdy, extremely roomy, fold up nicely..

    Nikki – I didn’t think we’d ever run out of paper bags, we had so many. And then, all of a sudden, they’re gone.

  7. Hmmm. Our co-op acts as paper bag trading post – you can take or leave as many paper/plastic bags as you like. Since Seattle recently passed a law to charge folks 20 cents per disposable shopping bag, I suspect more folks are taking their own bags thereby reducing the use of disposable bags (the whole idea behind the law in the first place). I’m not sure what impact this has had on the availability of bags….Anyway maybe there is some trading post? Odd that the city would insist on paper bags. Seems like re-usable bins would be more eco-friendly and durable!

  8. amy

    ann, i live in mpls too…and this was driving me crazy! what a conundrum — i know exactly what you mean!

    but then i noticed this: (see the Recycling Container Options section)

    now we use paper bags just for our paper recycling and put the rest of our stuff in reusable containers. you can order stickers from the city to put on the reusable containers you decide on (we just use 5 gallon buckets — one for cans, one for glass, one for plastic)…

  9. I ran into the same problem. As hard as I try to be a good ‘greenie’ I forget my reusable bags just often enough to keep a small stack of paper bags in the house.

  10. Oh, thank you Amy! That was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I love teh interwebs.

  11. Laura Hopper

    I’m basically in the same boat as Jamie. We try to use our green bags as often as possible, but I inevitably end up at the grocery store sometimes without them and bring home paper bags. Apparently it happens often enough to keep us stocked. I like the idea of picking just one store to get enough paper bags to use. Hopefully you’ll find a good balance.

  12. geeksinrome

    my mom saves the big paper bags birdseed, catfood, and cat litter come in and uses them for her paper recycling (the plastics etc go in bins…) But that kind of means you have to become a bird and cat lady (like her) to get enough bags!

  13. Eve

    I’m in Mpls too, with the same exact problem. We’ve started leaving the newspaper in a small trashcan and they have been fine with that–will probably proceed to using other small plastic bins for cans/plastic etc as we find them
    I really miss the paper bags for yard cleanup/tearing open to wrap something in the brown paper.

  14. Jen

    Same problem down here in Shakopee, but i don’ think we can use other contianers. I just “stock up” when we get low by using a paper bag at cub and snagging a few extra bags to put into the bag i am carrying out. Amuses Anders to no end, but works pretty well so far.

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