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What’s the Deal with Plastic Bags?

Bags4

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 www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/recycling-bags-and-wraps 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 www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/recycling-bags-and-wraps (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: www.slcgreen.com/compost-can.)

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: www.slcgreen.com/waste-management

In the News

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Salt Lake Tribune

Deseret News

City Weekly

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