Why Can't I Put Plastic Bags in the Bin?


Have you ever wondered why the single-stream recycling program in Fulton County will not take plastic bags, of any kind, even though there is often a recycling symbol on the bag?

While various materials are recyclable and can be turned into new products, not all recyclables can be collected together because of material characteristics, or the ability of a recycling facility to safely and adequately handle the material.

Plastic bags and plastic film are technically recyclable; however, they are a major problem for single-stream recycling programs like we have in Fulton County.  For this reason, plastic bags (garbage bags, shopping bags, zip-lock bags, bread bags, wood pellet bags, etc.) and plastic film (shrink wrap, packing pillows, bubble wrap, flexible plastic food packaging, etc.) are not accepted in Fulton County’s single-stream recycling program.

Because of the way the material is handled at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF), all recyclables must be loose.  Leaving recyclables in any sort of plastic bag creates a major problem at the recycling facility.  Again, recyclables must be loose as they start their journey so they can be recycled properly.

Any plastic bags left in the recycling bin will cause problems at the Material Recycling Facility.  Either the bags or plastic film will wrap around the sorting equipment and shut them down or they pass through the sorting process and often wind up in the paper bales.  Since plastic is obviously not paper, it is a major contaminant of paper bales and may lead to the paper bales being unmarketable and therefore not recycled.  Each day workers have to shut down equipment at MRFs and climb into rotor areas and cut away the plastic bags and film that have fouled the equipment. 

While plastic bags are not accepted in our single-stream program, the Giant in McConnellsburg does accept clean plastic shopping bags for recycling.  Since this is the only item in the bin, there is no sorting necessary and the bags from all the Giant stores can go directly to a facility that utilizes the bags.  In this region, most of the bags wind up at the Trex plant near Martinsburg, WV and are turned into plastic lumber, which is used for decks, picnic tables, benches, etc.

Some ways to reduce the number of plastic bags you have include:

1)      If you do not need a bag to carry an item or two, don’t take one.

2)      Take your own re-usable bags when shopping.

3)      Avoid excess packaging and those items packaged in plastic film if possible.

4)      If you use garbage bags to store and transport your recyclables, empty the bag out into the single-stream bin and take the bag home for re-use.

Again, if you have clean plastic shopping bags from any store, recycle them at Giant.  There is a collection box just inside the foyer where the shopping carts are located.  All other kinds of plastic bags and plastic film should be disposed of in your regular household garbage.

Finally, please do not burn plastics; plastics combustion is known to give off toxic gases.