Be a Big, Bag Witch

Most of us have home recycling down these days. In our house, we have three bins for three kinds of recycling – paper, containers, and plastic bags. We usually have cloth bags on hand when we’re out and about but there are those rare times we are caught without enough bags. You know - at the grocery store, or even being given bags when friends come over to give us back borrowed items, etc.

The paper and container recycling boxes go out regularly but the one I keep for plastic bags tends to reach overflow. Then my guy used to stick them into the blue bins, “Because all plastics are the same, right?” until I dissuaded him from doing so. I told him it contaminated the load but couldn’t back it up with facts until I decided to research to see, if in fact, I was correct.

And I was. Your regular plastic bags that come from retail or grocery stores can’t be thrown into the home recycling blue bins. Even if they’re made from recyclable materials!

This is because of single stream recycling practices common in our community, and probably yours, too.

The way it works

Everything tossed into the blue bin is sorted at the local recycling plant. Bottles and cans are separated from paper and the result and once everything has been organized and compressed properly through their various streams, they end up in bales. From there the bales are sold to various companies, including paper mills and metal foundries that use the materials for products.

So why aren’t plastic bags invited to the party? When plastic bags go into the blue bin, they often get wet and dirty therefore are too contaminated to sell. There is also no mechanical process for separating plastic bags at recycling facilities. They must be removed by hand and most facilities don’t have the manpower to dedicate people to the sole job of plastic bag removal. When plastic bags end up in your blue bin, they either get tangled in sorting equipment or accidentally end up in the bales of paper or metal. This is called contamination. Even if just one half of a percent of a bale is contaminated by a bag, the entire thing is chucked.

Plastic bags ARE recyclable, though. You can take them to various collection spots around your community, including Safeway grocery stores and London Drugs, where companies buy them in bulk and recycle them into hard durable plastics such as patio furniture. Various recycling depots will take them directly from you, including chip bags, Ziplock bags, plastic pouches and those mesh bags used for pears and avocados

It’s a little extra work but, like with anything else, you develop a system, stick with it, and it becomes second nature.