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What’s the Deal with Plastic Bags?


As you may have seen in the newsSalt Lake City is no longer able to accept plastic bags and plastic film in the blue curbside recycling containers.

So what should you do?

The short answer is –> Opt for REUSABLE bags whenever possible.

Remember the 3 R’s of waste management: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.

  1. Reduce the amount of single-use plastic you consume by using reusable bags.
  2. Reuse the bags you do have.
  3. Take your plastic bags for recycling back to the store. Many retailers have dedicated recycling receptacles for plastic film– which can be more effectively recycled when it’s not mixed with other items. Click here for a directory. (Don’t see your local retailer on the list? Ask them to join!)

Read on for other FAQ’s.

Why is Salt Lake City not accepting plastic bags in the blue recycling containers?

Plastic bags cause significant issues with the equipment at recycling facilities, jamming up the machines and requiring the entire facility to halt operations so the plastic film can be removed.

You can see an example in the video below.

These delays affect the success of Salt Lake City’s overall recycling operation and can impact the cost of the program. In the end, these plastic bags must be sent to the landfill to keep them out of our environment.

video thumbnail

A video from Chicago shows the problem: The bags get caught on recycling equipment and have to be removed by hand.

But my recycling container says plastic bags are okay…?

Most recycling processors around the country are no longer accepting plastic bags and this directly affects Salt Lake City’s recycling program, as it is for many other cities’ programs across the U.S. We strive to recycle as much material as possible, but global markets and the requirements of recycling vendors mean the accepted items change from time to time.

We’ll soon place notices on all citywide recycling containers, advising residents of this change regarding putting plastic bags in our curbside recycling cans.

When does this go into effect?

Please refrain from putting plastic bags in your recycling container now.

Questions about what goes in the blue bins? Here’s the list of recyclable items. (Reminder: If it’s not on the list, please don’t put it in the container. Don’t engage in “wishful recycling”).

What happens if I keep putting plastic bags in my blue can?

We’re asking for everyone’s help to make recycling successful, and that means keeping plastic bags and non-recyclable items out of your blue can. Residents who have ongoing issues will receive a notice from our education team on their container. If we continue to find unacceptable items, like plastic bags, in your recycling can, it may not get serviced.

What should I do instead?

The best option is to make a habit of using a reusable grocery bag. Exercise your power as a consumer to say No to single-use bags and Yes to reusables!

Yes, plastic is still prevalent in our society. While we collectively work to change that, we still need to deal with plastic film. We recommend taking any plastic film and bags you do have back to the grocery store. Look for a “plastic bag recycling” receptacle, often in the lobby of your grocery store. If they don’t have one, ask them about getting one.

You can also use plastic bags for trash or doggy doo. (Throw those in the garbage).

What about garbage bags, trash liners, zip top bags, produce bags, and plastic air pockets?

Just like plastic grocery bags, any type of plastic film should not go into the blue recycling containers. However clean plastic film of this type can also be recycled, along with grocery bags, in dedicated receptacles.

Check to find the nearest drop-off location or ask your local retailer to host one.

Remember the “first R”— can you find alternatives and reduce the amount plastic produce bags or zip top storage bags you use?

Plastic wrap that is not clear (like frozen vegetable bags, chip bags, or candy wrappers) is made out of a different type of plastic and is not recyclable at all.  Throw that type of plastic in the trash.

What about the bag I use to hold all my recycling?

Go bag-free. Emptying loose items in the recycling container is preferable. Or, if you’d rather line your recycling container with a plastic bag, consider dumping out the recyclables in your blue can and keeping the kitchen liner for more uses.

Where can I take my plastic bags now?

Residents can search for plastic film drop-off locations at (note Salt Lake City does not audit or verify these programs).

As of January 2018, you can also take plastic bags to Bags to Beds at the University of Utah Bennion Center,  Student Union, Honors Dorms, and Physics Department.

Bags to Beds is an aspiring non-profit designed to reduce waste while raising awareness and creating useful resources for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Bags to Beds is an aspiring non-profit designed to reduce waste while raising awareness and creating useful resources for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Should I use paper bags?

Paper bags are recyclable in the blue curbside containers. However, they also have a significant environmental impact. Reusable bags are still your best bet.

What about “biodegradable” or “compostable” plastic bags?

“Biodegradable/compostable” plastic cannot be processed in our compost or recycling operation and must go in the garbage. (Here’s what goes into the brown compost container:

Why not just ban plastic bags altogether?

We’ve studied the issue in the past and faced significant challenges in ensuring it would be successful.

Salt Lake City does support a statewide law that would even the playing field for all grocery stores and retailers.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto has proposed a bill for the 2018 legislative session. We encourage you to learn more about it.

In the meantime, Salt Lake City leaders and the Sustainability Department will focus on public education, as well as continuing to evaluate policy changes on single-use bags.

Thank you for working with us as we make these changes in our citywide recycling program. Keeping plastic bags out of the recycling containers ensures a more cost-effective and successful recycling operation as a whole. We appreciate your help!

For more information on Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling services visit:

In the News



Salt Lake Tribune

Deseret News

City Weekly


28 Comments Post a comment

    Plastic bags are ubiquitous, part of our (plastic) “culture.” They are probably the most harmful waste product, now filling up the oceans, and therefore, the most important item to be recycled. If the response is to ban recycling them, they will go in the trash, as you know. If it’s too much trouble to recycle plastic, just be honest and end recycling. Or, make a separate container, as for glass. JUST BANNING PLASTIC BAGS BECAUSE IT’S TOO MUCH TROUBLE TO RECYCLE THEM IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE, BUT QUITE REVEALING.

    January 14, 2018
  2. don't want your contact #

    Loose contents dumped by hurried truck drivers leave a debris trail that is blown by the wind. The City, in its effort to avoid certain types of work, has the created a scenario they now repeat daily. Thanks to the wind strewn bits of paper, too small to separate by any other method. The careless dumping of loose recyclable materials – at each residence and business allows the individual driver to then drive away, guiltless to the raining down of paper fragments and debris. It is a new, greener, method of recycling – distribute the load across all users – do not shuttle the burden to the waste center. No doubt the City will soon praise residents for helping make the City “an efficient and easy to process” recycle location.

    January 17, 2018
  3. Dave #

    What is new about this problem? The recycle machines have been operating for decades all across the country. Sounds like an equipment and or engineering problem for the recycler to solve if they want to remain viable. This new city policy will discourage recycling. All trash will now be thrown in the green can. Policy is short sighted.

    January 19, 2018
  4. Shirley #

    Now that plastic bags aren’t allowed in recycling, can we please make it illegal to dump these
    “Money Bags” mailers, that are contained in green plastic bags, on our sidewalks, streets and gutters?

    March 16, 2018
    • While we agree with you that plastic bags and paper advertisements are not ideal, commercial speech such as these mailers are protected and the City cannot ban advertisers. You can contact the solicitors directly to unsubscribe for your own residence. If you are noticing a significant amount of litter extending beyond private porches, please let us know at and we will track down the appropriate city resource to follow up with.

      March 16, 2018
  5. Thanks for sharing it.

    April 4, 2018
  6. I hope biodegradable bags are the best way to deal with such problems. They are helpful in recycling the organic waste. They may not solve the whole problem but would help up to an extent.

    There are many Green programs and lot of providers who sell compostable products & bio bags which are equally economic as plastic bags.

    June 14, 2018
  7. Hi,
    Amazing post..!!! It was useful information about recycling plastics and other products.Reading to your article it seems you have great interest in this topic. Keep up the good work and making everyone aware.Thanks.

    October 18, 2018
    • Thank you! Please let us know if you have any other questions.

      October 26, 2018
  8. You can reuse your plastic bags in many ways like use plastic bags that are cut up into strips to protect items when you are moving.

    February 13, 2019
    • Yes! Reduce and reuse are always the options before recycling. Thanks for the suggestions.

      February 13, 2019
  9. Christine #

    I have heard that only plastics 1 and 2 are now being recycled by the city. Is this true? Being fearful of contaminating the load I have stopped putting my clean yogurt and cottage cheese containers (#5) in the recycle bin. If you no longer accept plastics higher than #2 you need to educate.

    November 26, 2019
    • Thanks for your question! Salt Lake City accepts all plastic containers. The resin codes are not always indicative of what is recyclable, but in general, we are able to recycle 1’s, 2’s, and 5’s. We do divert other plastic containers to waste to energy operations. Please do put your yogurt and cottage cheese containers in the recycling bin!

      November 26, 2019
  10. Judy Miller #

    I heard that all “garbage” in the black can has to be in plastic. Is this true?

    December 8, 2019
    • Hi Judy, thanks for writing. We can only speak for Salt Lake City and our customers: While Salt Lake City does not require you to bag your trash, it will help reduce litter from trash blowing out and help keep your trash can cleaner. One thing I do is reuse old shopping bags for trash. However, it’s entirely your choice!

      December 13, 2019
  11. Judy Miller #

    Kudos to Sprouts for using both sides of the paper receipt!

    December 8, 2019
  12. Rachel #

    Can I recycle all my makeup or skincare container I never opened? there’s still have creamy lotion inside, I have a bunch of stuff like that

    July 5, 2020

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Letter: Best ways to fight the plastic bag scourge are reduction and reuse – Shawn Miller
  2. Check Out our New Trucks! | slcGreen Blog
  3. Let’s Talk about Recycling | slcGreen Blog
  4. What a Year! Check out our 2018 Year in Review | slcGreen Blog
  5. YouthCity is Saving the Planet One Reusable Bag at a Time | slcGreen Blog
  6. Washed Ashore: Art Exhibit at Hogle Zoo Emphasizes Plastic Reduction to Save Our Waterways | slcGreen Blog
  7. The Guide to Recycling in Salt Lake City | Ashley Lindsey
  8. The Guide to Recycling in Salt Lake City | Rachel Wray Eliason | Utah Realtor
  9. Truck Wraps Deliver Words of Wisdom, Inspire Recycling | slcGreen Blog
  10. The Guide to Recycling in Salt Lake City | Carol Autry

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