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Bag-The-Bag: Salt Lake City Recycling Declutters For The New Year

Rex Turgano/Flickr Creative Commons
There's a glut now of plastic bags that can be recycled and used for things like picnic tables. So it no longer makes economic sense for Salt Lake City to recycle them. That's why they will no longer be accepted soon in the city's recycling bins.

Beginning this month Salt Lake City will stop accepting plastic bags for recycling. There are several reasons for the city’s “Bag-the-bag” campaign.

The Environmental Protection Agency says Americans use 380 billion plastic bags and wraps a year. It’s a glut of bags, and so recycling plastics has become like other commodities these days: There’s just no market for them.

“They’re just not worth it,” says Sophia Nicholas, spokeswoman for the city’s sustainability office.

“Plastic bags cause a lot of problems with our equipment at the recycling processing facilities. They get caught on the machines and they cause the whole operation to shut down because those plastic bags have to be taken off the equipment.”

What that means for residents is reminders, like “don’t put the bags in your recycling bins,” and “bring your own, reusable shopping bags to Salt Lake City stores.”

Salt Lake City plans to stop accepting plastic grocery bags in recycling bins.

“That is something that many different cities and private haulers have put into effect, and Salt Lake City is now doing the same thing,” says Nicholas.

She points out that plastic bags can still be reused, and they can even be bundled with cling wrap and recycled at grocery stores that volunteer. But the city’s also ramping up a campaign to remind shoppers to carry reusable bags.

City leaders have informally discussed a single-use plastic bag ban from time to time. But, so far, the idea hasn’t gotten any traction.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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