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The Problem with Plastic Bags

Post Date:01/19/2017 11:43 AM

Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags a year – nearly one million bags per minute!  Here in Utah we throw away 940 million plastic bags a year. Durable and lightweight, these bags are also aerodynamic, and often end up in trees, fences, rivers, fields, and storm drains, contributing to millions of dollars in municipal cleanup costs, not to mention creating numerous negative environmental impacts. Plastic bags are also the most prevalent debris surrounding our local landfills. While most of the garbage that is dumped at a landfill remains in place until it is buried beneath 6 inches of dirt at the end of the day, plastic bags easily fly away and end up as litter on surrounding properties. Litter from plastic bags is so prevalent that many landfills spend millions of dollars to install large, curved “Jurassic Park” fences to catch airborne bags. Last year, our Trans-Jordan landfill spent more than $40,000 simply to pick up plastic bag litter.

Can I recycle plastic bags?

Most plastic bags are marked with a recycling symbol or words claiming that it’s recyclable.  Yes, somewhere it may be recyclable, but not here in Utah!    Plastic bags are not accepted in curbside recycling bins.  Don’t place your recycling into plastic bags before bringing it out to your recycling bin, and don’t place any type of loose plastic bag (grocery bags, sandwich bags, bread bags, etc.) into your bin.  The only way these bags can be recycled is if you return them to the store where you originally received them.  

Plastic bags wreak havoc on the automated equipment at recycling facilities by wrapping around spinning parts. Every day, machinery has to be shut down and plastic bags cut away. As recycling is sorted at our local materials recovery facility, plastic bags are removed from the recycling stream and sent to the landfills – as garbage.

What can you do?

  • Reduce the amount of plastic bags you use by remembering to take reusable bags to the store.
  • Reuse bags by using them to line your small trash cans or to clean up pet messes, and then place them securely into your trash bin. The weight within the bags will prevent them from becoming flying litter.
Recycle your plastic bags by returning them to the grocery store. Most stores have a plastic bag recycling container near their front entrance.
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