Single-stream curbside programs rely on mechanical sorting of recyclables. The business model for recyclers depends, in turn, on keeping the machinery running efficiently. Plastic bags slow things down in two ways:
- If used to contain recyclables, plastic bags have to be separated out and ripped open by workers, so that the recyclables can be removed and sorted. That’s so inefficient that recyclers may sideline plastic bags and send them to landfills instead.
- Plastic bags that are included in curbside recycling bins along with other materials – especially the flimsy, single-use bags used by many supermarkets and big-box stores – clog sorting machinery. That results in costly downtime at sorting plants.
Most supermarkets collect plastic bags for recycling, so returning them to the store where you got them is a good option. Alternatively, try to cut down on the number of plastic bags you use in the first place. When running errands, take along a reusable shopping bag instead!