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November 15, 2018

Free your Recyclables on America Recycles Day

Annually on November 15, organizations and communities from coast to coast celebrate America Recycles Day. At the heart of this special day is a commitment to take care of our planet’s resources for generations to come through recycling. Recyclers have good intentions and Waste Management wants to ensure their efforts are the most effective. So this year, as part of Waste Management’s Recycle Often. Recycle Right.® educational program, we’re focusing on plastic bags.

Why plastic bags should never go in your recycling container

We interact with them every single day – plastic bags. They’re at the grocery store. They’re at the shop down the street. They’re at the takeout restaurant that’s so popular on the weekends. They’re stowed away in countless kitchen drawers and pantries. When it comes to plastic bags, we find them in so many places. However, the one place we should never find them – but so often do – are in those everyday recycling containers.

You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, plastic bags can’t be recycled?” Well, they can be recycled – just not through your regular recycling program. Here’s why.

Why shouldn’t plastic bags or bagged recyclables go in my recycling container?

It all goes back to how the recycling system was set up (if you want to learn more, here’s a video). Through a traditional single-stream recycling program, all recyclables go into a single container, including plastic bottles, cans, paper and cardboard. These widely acceptable materials are then transported to a recycling facility that uses both manual labor and sorting technology to separate the items into different material streams.

When plastic bags enter the facility, they wrap around and clog the sorting machinery, which can impact the ability for the equipment to sort the material as it was designed to do. Sometimes there are so many plastic bags that the entire recycling facility must come to a halt so the plastic bags can be cut from being tangled around the machinery.

Even worse, plastic bags can create a safety hazard for our recycling workers. For example, when recyclables are placed in a plastic bag and tied off (the way you would a trash bag) workers are sorting recyclables on a conveyor belt without fully knowing what’s inside that plastic bag. In many cases, non-recyclables are placed in these bags, and some of it can be dangerous, including broken glass, sharp metals, flammable materials and even needles. So in order to ensure the protection of our workers, bags of materials often end up in the trash. 

Another reason to consider in not placing plastic bags in your recycling container is that many times they become contaminated with food and liquids that unfortunately have made their way into the container. Plastic film loses its recyclability if it’s mixed with everyday items. When a plastic bag is damaged or dirty, it loses its ability to be recycled – the plastic is of such poor quality that there’s no market for the material.

How should I recycle plastic bags?

Recycling plastic bags right is easy and can be summed up with a couple of guidelines.

1. Never bag your recyclables or place plastic bags loosely in your recycling container.
2. Return clean and dry plastic bags to a participating grocer or retail establishment for proper recycling. To find a drop-off location, visit

Think Outside the Plastic Bag

To learn more about this important recycling issue, Waste Management dedicated a special page on its Recycle Often. Recycle Right.® website to help recyclers. The site has tools for all recyclers to utilize and educate others. To learn more, visit

In the spirit of America Recycles Day, share this information with others. The more we all recycle right, the more we can do our part to make recycling sustainable for years to come!