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Why You Shouldn’t Bag Recyclables

Hanna Greer-Brown Hanna Greer-Brown Why You Shouldn’t Bag RecyclablesPhoto provided by SWACO
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To ensure the recyclables you collect at home and set out at the curb or take to one of SWACO’s drop-off recycling locations are recycled and reach their full potential as a new product, don’t bag them. It’s best to keep these items loose in the recycling container. In fact, if recyclables are put into plastic bags, such as a grocery or trash bags, and placed in the recycling container they might end up at the landfill. 

Recycling is easy but it’s important to do it correctly if you want your efforts to make a difference.

Understanding the right way to dispose of recyclables, the recycling process, and why certain items aren’t accepted, can save you time and energy, create a more efficient recycling system, and reduce our reliance on the local landfill. 

In Franklin County, there are five material types currently accepted for household recycling:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Plastic bottles and jugs
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Metal cans
  • Cartons
Image provided by SWACO

When these items are picked up from the curb or a drop-off location, they are transported to a material recovery facility (MRF, pronounced ‘murf’). At the MRF, recyclables travel on a series of conveyer belts and are sorted by material type (paper, plastic, metals, etc.) using various technologies such as screens, optical scanners and electromagnets. The sorted materials are then compressed into bales and sold before being processed and repurposed into new items and given a second life.

However, recyclables that arrive at the MRF in plastic bags can be detrimental to the recycling process and cause big issues for the facility’s equipment. During the sorting stage, plastic bags can tangle, stretch and get stuck in the equipment. Machines must then be turned off to safely remove the bags, which can damage equipment and lead to additional recycling costs for the facility and residents alike. 

You may be wondering, if bottle-shaped plastics, like water and detergent jugs are accepted for recycling, why can’t plastic bags be recycled at the curb? 

The truth of the matter is that plastic bags and films (such as trash bags, zip-lock bags and bread bags) are 100% recyclable and because they are among the most common source of marine debris and roadside litter, and don’t decompose in the landfill, it’s important to recycle these plastics. 

However, because the equipment used at the local MRF is not designed to accept this material, they can not be recycled at the curb.

Thankfully, in central Ohio, plastic bags and film plastics can be recycled at dozens of grocery stores where they’re shipped to processors and manufacturers who turn them into plastic lumber or even new plastic bags. 

For more information and to identify a grocery store or retail location recycling plastic bags and films near you, visit www.RecycleRight.org

Recycle Right is brought to you by SWACO, Franklin County’s resource for solid waste diversion and disposal. SWACO seeks to reduce the community’s reliance on the landfill as well as meet state mandated diversion goals by providing waste reduction, reuse and recycling programs and services to residents and businesses in 41 central Ohio communities, totaling more than a million people. Last year, Franklin County reached its highest rate of diversion on record – 49%. In addition to diversion programming, SWACO is the only Solid Waste District in Ohio to own and operate a landfill and which provides the organization with a holistic and unique perspective on the local waste stream.

For more information, visit swaco.org.

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