Without recycling - especially plastic recycling - we're all doomed. Seriously. But what’s possibly even more tragic than selfish people who don’t bother to recycle when the service is offered, is people who go to the effort of sorting their recycling and then completely nullify their effort by sticking it in a plastic bag.
There’s some good information on why this is so bad at Planet Ark. It’s worth repeating the main points here:
Human health and our natural resources
The first level of sorting at recycling stations is done by hand.
Workers at the recycling station are sorting through tonnes of material an hour and don’t have time to open bags to find out what’s inside. Your plastic bags could be filled with recyclable material like glass or plastic bottles or aluminium cans. Or they could be full of contaminants like food scraps, plastic wrap or unwanted wine glasses. Even worse, they could be full of dirty or dangerous material like dirty nappies or medical equipment.
Since it’s too dangerous and time consuming to open and sort the bags, they have to be removed from the recycling stream and thrown into the rubbish. That means valuable resources will not be reclaimed. Instead they will be wasted in landfill.
Recycling system efficiency
The next issue with plastic bags is that they interfere with the automatic sorting machines.
Conveyor belts feed the recycling into rotating tunnels, onto spinning wheels and past magnets and eddy currents to separate the plastic, glass, paper, aluminium and steel cans. Plastic bags cannot be sorted from other materials by existing machinery. Instead, they get caught in the conveyor belts and jam spinning wheels and can bring the entire sorting station to a halt. The bags then need to be found and removed by hand - a time consuming and often dangerous process that reduces the overall efficiency of the recycling station or materials recovery facility (MRF).
The photo above shows the sign on all of the recycling bins in our building. Despite this, people still keep putting plastic bags in recycling bins! When I dropped down some recycling earlier this week this is what I found:
Being a good citizen (and without any other crap in the bin), I emptied it out and stuck the bag in the regular bin. Usually, I am not so brave.
It left me feeling angry at the laziness and/or ignorance that made someone think that this was acceptable behaviour. If you see someone put plastic bags in recycling, please tell them not to. And if you do… Stop! Put them in the regular bin or, better still, a dedicated plastic bag recycling bin at your local supermarket (if it has one).