Why you should stop putting plastic bags in your Salt Lake City recycling bin


Recycling workers at one of Salt Lake City's processing facilities last fall look over a mountain of plastic bags and other items removed from regular curb-side recycling pick-up because they are not recyclable. The city is now asking residents not to put plastic bags or wrap in their blue recycling bins.

For those in the habit of gathering up their recyclable items in a nice tidy bag before dropping them in the blue bin, Salt Lake City would like you to stop. Right now.

And that goes for all plastic bags — shopping or food bags from the grocery store, those clear garment covers from the dry cleaner, with zips or without. Plastic film — cling wrap and the like — is out, too.

The restriction is not exactly new. The city’s Sustainability Department started talking it up last year, but the city has moved it to the “soft launch” stage, ahead of formal City Council action to change the city’s recycling ordinance.

“It used to be economical to capture those plastic bags. Now they are proving much more of a nuisance. They get caught on equipment,” said Sophia Nicholas, a spokeswoman for the department.

“What we really want is for people to be focusing on the ‘reduce and reuse’ aspect of bags, not thinking of recycling all their plastic in their blue bin as a solution, because it’s not.”

A video from Chicago shows the problem: The bags get caught on recycling equipment and have to be removed by hand. Also, bags don’t let collectors check for non-recyclable materials in the bin that could contaminate the batch.

For now, the city is working to educate the public. They’ve taken plastic bags off the list of recyclable items and will be adding stickers to residential blue bins.

Later, when the rules are fully in effect, chronic offenders will get a note on their bin from the department’s enforcement team.

A post about the change on SLCGreen’s Facebook page drew questions from users but no real opposition. Some commenters said the city should ban plastic bags outright, but the city’s looking to the state to act on that.

“We really believe that something beyond Salt Lake City needs to be implemented to be successful,” Nicholas said.

So what should residents do with their bags, beyond reusing them?

Take them back to where you got them. Most stores have containers for used bags. You can also go to plasticfilmrecycling.org to search for a drop-off location.