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Earth Week Day 4: What To Do With Your Plastic Bags

Each day this week SLCgreen will post different tips and activities to challenge you to reduce your impact on the Earth.

Today we’re focusing on one of the most commonly asked questions: What to do with plastic bags?

Did you know that you shouldn’t bag your recyclables?

In fact, you should avoid putting plastic bags and garbage bags in your residential recycling bin entirely.

Plastic bags hinder the recycling process by:

  • Not allowing the haulers to see if other non-recyclable materials are in the blue recycling bin.
  • Contaminating otherwise good recycling materials.
  • Wrapping around the equipment at the sorting facility. Plastic bags can damage machines and cause shutdowns, wasting time and dollars.

Watch this video by DNA Info Chicago to see how plastic bags can interrupt recycling machines on a daily basis:

So what should you do?

Remember the adage, Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle?

As much as possible, avoid plastic bags by using reusable totes and containers when shopping.

However, we know it’s almost impossible to ban plastic bags from your life entirely.

So if you have plastic bags collecting at home, bunch them together and take them to the grocery store with you – many grocery stores will have special plastic bag containers* that allow “plastic film” to be recycled properly. Just make sure to remove items from any bags before dropping them into the bin. And only deposit clean, residue-free bags or plastic film.

In fact, drop-off sites accept most types of soft plastic film, not just grocery bags! Recyclable materials include most types of plastic bags, plastic packaging like bubble wrap, and the plastic wrapping that comes around paper products or drink cases. Basically, any clean, dry plastic that you can stretch or crush into a ball with your hand is recyclable. A more complete list of all recyclable soft plastics can be found here.

What happens to your plastic bags after they’re recycled? Most recycled plastic bags end up as a component of composite lumber, which is used frequently for decking and park benches. Other plastics get melted down and remade into new plastic bags, which is much less resource-intensive than starting from scratch.

These are good solutions, but remember, recycling plastic film should be a last resort. First, make sure to REDUCE and REUSE by buying in bulk and using reusable bags and containers!

*The City does not regulate or audit the recycling of plastic film in Salt Lake City. This information is general and may vary depending on the individual hauler.

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