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Plastic bags can't be recycled like other items, but that may be changing

Aug 06, 2023

Plastic bags at grocery store checkout counter.

by: James Wesser

Posted: Aug 1, 2023 / 02:17 PM EDT

Updated: Aug 1, 2023 / 02:17 PM EDT

(WHTM) — Many of us nowadays have started recycling to cut back on the trash that is filling up dumps and landfills. But did you know, that there is one thing you cannot throw away along with your metal cans, plastic bottles, and other recyclables?

Plastic bags are not allowed in many recycling bins or recycling centers. The reason for this is that these centers cannot handle the bags. Vice President of Recycling for WM, formally known as Waste Management, Brett Bell says that it’s all about the equipment not being able to process the bags.

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“It wraps around the recycling equipment and so it causes just a lot of issues with tangling around the equipment,” Bell said. says that this can create work stoppages, meaning the whole recycling facility needs to stop, just for a few plastic bags. The site says it can take up to an hour, or longer, to clear the bags from the machines. also says that only around 1% of plastic bags are recycled correctly. You can take unused plastic bags to many grocery stores or big box stores to be recycled properly.

So, will we ever be able to throw plastic bags into our bins with everything else we recycle? Bell says that it is slowly becoming a reality.

“[Waste Management] is working on some pilot [projects] where we’re taking that material. So there are two pilots we are working on where we actually are trying to take that material. So that eventually, you know, maybe next year we’re going to have the same conversation, then we can accept those materials,” Bell said.

Bell says that right now, these two pilot locations are not based in Pennsylvania, but they are based throughout the country.

“[One is] out of Salt Lake City and another one is south of Chicago, “Bell said.

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Bell believes that one day, it will be possible to throw in the bags with the rest of the recyclables that homeowners usually throw into their bins.

“We’ve now invested in machinery that can kind of handle that better than before. And so that’s why we’re saying, hey, it’d be nice if we can tell consumers at some point they can throw those items in the bin as well, Bell added.

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