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Dutchess_III's avatar

Why can't I put plastic bags, like Zip Lock bags, or baggies, in my recycle bin?

Asked by Dutchess_III (40250points) July 28th, 2015

I got my recycling bin today and I’m excited.

However, on the do’s and don’ts list it says you can recycle rinsed plastic containers, but not plastic bags. I can understand not recycling, bags, like Walmart plastic bags, but what about Zip Lock bags and baggies? Why can’t I recycle those?

I asked the trash folks, and she wasn’t sure. She said it had something to do with the people who pick the recycle stuff up.

I looked online, and they gave an answer, but it seemed to me they were referring to the plastic bags you bring purchases home in.

”...Workers at the recycling station are sorting through tonnes of material an hour and don’t have time to open bags to find out what’s inside….”

The next issue with plastic bags is that they interfere with the automatic sorting machines.

Conveyor belts feed the recycling into rotating tunnels, onto spinning wheels and past magnets and eddy currents to separate the plastic, glass, paper, aluminum and steel cans. Plastic bags cannot be sorted from other materials by existing machinery. Instead, they get caught in the conveyor belts and jam spinning wheels and can bring the entire sorting station to a halt. The bags then need to be found and removed by hand – a time consuming and often dangerous process that reduces the overall efficiency of the recycling station or materials recovery facility (MRF).

So what about baggies and such?

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22 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Sounds like you already have the answer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

But I can’t tell if they’re talking about floppy Walmart grocery sacks, which I can see getting caught up, or all plastic. I mean, they talk about having to “open the bags up to see what’s inside.”
I wouldn’t consider a Ziplock a “bag” in the same way as a Walmart grocery bag. But….maybe they, too, would jack things up.

snowberry's avatar

Grocery sacks are made from the same stuff that milk cartons are made of, only much thinner. Many other plastic bags are not made from the same type of material (such as when candy comes in bags made from clear plastic film). It’s a challenge to sort all that plastic, and because they are made differently from different formulas, it’s important to sort that plastic film properly.

My recycle company that picks up at the house won’t accept any plastic bags or film, but there’s a place downtown that does. So once a month or two I take my all my plastic film, grocery sacks and baggies to the do-it-yourself recycle center. Every recycle center has different rules regarding what they’ll take too. It all depends on who is nearby who will accept what they collect. It doesn’t pay to haul it very far.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m actually feeling pretty good now. I’ve always hated throwing “perfectly good” stuff away, like milk jugs, coffee containers, glass jars…..

snowberry's avatar

I’ve lived all over the country. Everywhere I’ve lived, there have been different rules regarding recycling. The downtown place takes Styrofoam, even cleaned out food containers, and electronics and batteries! The recycle center in Park City, Utah recycled everything you can imagine, including kitchen cabinets, old wood, large appliances, batteries, containers for clear, green and brown glass, and they even had a special collection for blue bottle glass. There was a local artist who needed blue glass for his art work.

I love recycle centers.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

We recycle most of our plastic, but I’m guessing bags aren’t recyclable. It depends on what they’re made of.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, according to the article it’s because they’ll get caught up in the recycling sorters so…

elbanditoroso's avatar

My recycling service (through the county) has no such restrictions. They must use different machines where you live.

Where I live (large county in suburban atlanta) they used to only do newspapers and bottles. About four years ago, the County did a new contract and the result was the the recyclers will pick up darn near everything, and sort it out at the transfer station.

kritiper's avatar

No filmy plastics. Period! This includes bubble wrap.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Apparently other re-cycling centers accept stuff like that.

But I can understand the argument. I can see filmy plastics bogging up the works, depending on the sorting machines they have.

ibstubro's avatar

I think a lot of the problem with plastic bags is that moisture, or liquid, acts as a lubricant between two microscopically thin layers of plastic. When the bag meets an area that’s meant to force the material forward by constriction, it just balls the whole works up.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, I wouldn’t call a Ziplock bag “microscopically” thin. But, they can’t take them.

It just kind of bugs me because plastic has got to the the worst thing we can throw into our trash dumps (aside from poisonous chemicals and stuff, which I would never do.) Just going to figure out where I can take them.

ibstubro's avatar

You answered your own question…why would the size of the bag make a difference?
Plastic clogs the sorting machinery.

If it bothers you a lot, don’t use plastic bags, and stop using pre-packaged foods.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Please re-read the last line of my post above; “Just going to figure out where I can take them.

Your “advice” and your rebuke were unnecessary. You have no idea what kind of food I eat or what I use the storage bags for or how long they last.

Also, “pre packaged food,” can be anything from bread to hamburger to chicken to potatoes, almost anything.

snowberry's avatar

Ok @Dutchess_III, I did a search for “community recycling in (your hometown)”. I sent you a link to it by PM. They take stretchy plastic film. As long as it doesn’t tear they’ll take it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Thanks Snowberry. I’ll go look.

ibstubro's avatar


And yes, if your concern is genuine, stop using pre-packaged foods, @Dutchess_III.
Or at least minimize.

I don’t see a lot of plastic bags after I recycle.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Again, your “advice” is un called for. I’m a big girl. I can figure things out on my own, especially obvious things.

Besides, is my husband to quit buying hamburger? Pork? Fish? Name a food, besides fruit and vegetables, that isn’t prepackaged.

Dutchess_III's avatar

They really need a Q and A site for their recycling company. It states “No lids.” I can kind of understand things like no lids off of plastic bottles, like pop and stuff, because the lids are a different material and they’re small.

However, I was clearing out the plastic coffee containers yesterday. They have big lids, but the lids are the same material as the containers. So are those lids ok?

snowberry's avatar

@Duchess, call them to clarify. Large lids should be fine; it’s the little pieces of plastic that tend to screw up the works. And suggest they clarify that requirement on their website. I talked to the guy and he’s a reasonable sort of person.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I need to find out who the company is first. That’s why I said I wish the had a Q&A website. And maybe they do. I just have to call the city to find out what it is.

Also, the place you mentioned is about 60 miles away, and we only very rarely go there. To make a special trip would use up more gas and stuff, and pretty much negate what I’m aiming for.

I googled, asking what WM did with the bags they recycle. This blog I found says they get sent to Bentonville and re purposed into plastic chairs and stuff. That’s OK, I guess, although those plastic chairs eventually wind up in the land fill, never degrading.

Why can’t they burn the plastics back into carbon, and contain the smoke?

snowberry's avatar

Ask them! They’d have a better answer than I would.

It’s a long drive to my community recycle center too. I save up until I have a FULL car, then go. And if ever I’m in the area, I take stuff then too.

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