Construction companies, handymen, and many DIY-enthusiasts have one question in common: “What can I do with old concrete bags?” As some manufacturers shift from paper bags to plastic ones that generally take 20 to 30 years to degrade, you don’t want them to end up in landfills.
Old concrete bags can be reused for different purposes in and around the building site or home. Then there are artists and entrepreneurs using the empty bags’ woven material to create artifacts or handy articles. Finally, the bags can be recycled into new material by recycling companies.
In this article, we’ll first have a quick look at the bags’ material and why the newer bags degrade slowly. Then, we’ll discuss the possible ways you can reuse or recycle empty bags.
What Are Concrete Bags Made Of?
Although concrete has been sold in paper bags for many years, the trend is to change to recyclable plastic bags to ensure good tear resistance and help keep out moisture. They are primarily made up of three components: virgin material, masterbatch, and UV coating.
The virgin material is woven polypropylene strands. Polypropylene is the substance resisting humid conditions to provide long shelf life for the concrete. It also ensures that the bags can withstand rough handling when transported and piled up. Currently, this type of bag is an efficient way to store and transport concrete.
Unfortunately, polypropylene takes more than two decades to decompose when dumped in a landfill. According to the British Plastics Federation (BPF), manufacturers now add masterbatch to the polypropylene to make it more degradable, but it still takes a long period to decompose (source).
Reuse Possibilities on the Jobsite and Around the Home
Millions of concrete bags are sold annually in the US alone, so users are increasingly aware of their negative impact on the environment when empty concrete bags are just dumped in landfills. As a result, many are looking at reuse possibilities.
Simply Reuse as Bags
One possibility is to reuse empty bags as bags for other purposes. The empty bags — whether paper bags or woven polypropylene bags — can be filled with debris and used to move it to the disposal area in your yard or at the building site. Simply empty the bags and use them over and over again.
The bags are also convenient when used to retain excavated soil. The filled bags could then even be used as a temporary retaining wall section. Just put the dirt-filled concrete bags one over the other, constructing a stable and strong temporary retaining wall.
Remember, you can also use your bags with hardened concrete as part of the retaining wall if you’re looking for something to do with hardened bags of concrete.
You can also use empty concrete bags filled with sand or soil and stacked on top of each other in many other ways.
Many contractors and DIY-enthusiasts use the sand-filled bags as temporary bunds or embankments to keep out surrounding water. The bags also offer slope protection and could support embankments.
If construction is taking place in the rainy season, it is always good to fill some of your concrete bags with sand or soil as soon as the bags become empty. Keep these filled bags ready for emergency use when possible flooding becomes a problem. Old bags of cement that you can’t use anymore can also be kept for such emergencies.
Using Empty Bags as Building Material
Empty woven polypropylene bags could also be handy to use without filling them. They can save money if you use them instead of burlap, also known as hessian, a densely woven fabric made from jute, to put on wet concrete surfaces. For example, the bags could prevent the loss of curing water.
If you need to erect a temporary shed in your yard or on a job site, you could use one or two layers of empty polypropylene concrete bags to provide temporary roofing — a cheap alternative to expensive roofing material.
You can also prevent land contamination by putting a few layers of empty paper or woven bags on the ground where you want to pile heaps of aggregates, sand, bricks, or wood. To cover the piles, join the bags with wire and put the “bag-sheet” on top of the piles. The bags are then capable of resisting air, wind, sun, and water.
Another job that you can successfully complete with empty woven concrete bags is to use them as a mesh to plaster over. Fix the bags to the wall with nails and proceed to plaster over them. They can also be helpful with frame structures for load-bearing and confined masonry structures.
Paving contractors and DIY-pavers could use the bags as a ground layer, preventing weeds from growing through the paving stones.
Reuse Possibilities for Artists and Entrepreneurs
Empty woven concrete bags don’t only have a reusable function related to the building site or home. They could be cleaned thoroughly and used by artists and entrepreneurs to create artifacts and handy articles. You can sell your empty bags to them or provide them with the bags free of charge as part of your community involvement.
Old woven bags are used by crafty entrepreneurs to revamp old shopping trolleys. They use the trolley’s frame and transform the bags into the “basket” part of the new trolley. If not used for revamping shopping trolleys, the bags could be colored and used to make shopping bags.
The mesh-like texture of the woven concrete bags also makes them ideal for embroidering. The final product can be sold by handcrafters as artwork. Other handcraft experts could also use this embroidered material to create articles like small purses, floor mats, and table mats.
Recycling by Professional Recycling Company
For the DIY-builder and construction companies, sending empty concrete bags to a recycling company is often not viable. It is probably easier to just dump the empty bags with all the other debris.
For some, it might also seem like a waste of valuable time to store the empty bags apart from other debris and then have to look for buyers to purchase them.
Although paper bags are fast degradable, it is still better to sell them to paper recycling companies to reuse than just dump them in a landfill.
There are sometimes schools and non-profit organizations collecting paper to sell for funds. You can arrange for them to come and pick up the paper bags at your home or site in some cases.
You might have to put in a little more effort to get rid of your polypropylene bags. However, if you look at the ever-increasing industry involved with the recycling of plastic and plastic-related material, you realize that, by selling your empty concrete bags to recycling companies, you become part of this industry and could even financially benefit from it.
Your empty woven concrete bags can be sold to the recycling companies directly or via third-party buyers.
To assist with finding buyers, there are websites like plasticsmarkets.org specializing in connecting suppliers and buyers of all types of scrap plastic, including old woven polypropylene concrete bags. The recycling industry in North America supports this site, and it is kept up-to-date regularly (source).
If you are a bulk user of concrete and thus continuously have piles of empty bags, the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) is another source to find companies in need of polypropylene products to recycle.
For those who are not convinced that you are helping to preserve a healthy environment by providing empty concrete bags to the recycling industry, let’s look at what type of useful products recycled polypropylene can be transformed into.
According to several studies by the Waste and Resources Programme (WRAP) in the United Kingdom, recycled plastics and polypropylene products can effectively be used in high-performance electrical products and could be a viable technical and economical option.
They’ve also found that recycled material is frequently used for more rigid purposes like valves for toilets’ flushing mechanisms and washing machine components.
According to WRAP, recycled plastic can also be fed straight back into packaging products. This growing demand for recycled content products creates a large market for items like empty polypropylene concrete bags (source).
Globally, empty woven polypropylene concrete bags are increasingly recycled and used for making a variety of cost-effective plastic products, such as mugs, buckets, and slippers.
Because of its inherent flexibility, polypropylene can be recycled to manufacture thermal underwear, clothing fibers, food containers, dishware, and garden apparatus.
There are many more products where recycled polypropylene is used, but these examples should be enough to illustrate that you can earn money by selling your empty concrete bags to recycling companies and simultaneously help to preserve the environment.
Whether you have one or two empty concrete bags or piles of them, there are many ways to reuse them rather than just dumping them in a landfill. You can either reuse them yourself or provide them to others who use the material to create useful items.
Instead of being a one-off user and then discarding the used bags, you can become part of the recycling process.
Although most reused items will, at the end of their lifespan, also end up in a recycling facility, you’ve done your part to prolong the life of the bag. You can also decide to make it financially viable for you and sell the empty bags directly for recycling.