Why are Plastic Bags Such a Problem?
Plastic bags, such as grocery bags and garbage bags, are detrimental to the recycling process. In Middletown plastic bags (which includes garbage bags) are responsible for over 70% of the contamination of our single stream recycling. Although they have a recycling label, they cannot be processed in single stream recycling and must be dealt with separately.
The main issue with plastic bags is that the mechanisms that sort single stream recycling are meant for solid products such as aluminum, cardboard, hard plastic, etc. As the raw recycling goes along a conveyor belt, it is taken though sorters that separate the various materials. When plastic bags go through this process, they get caught in the rotating shafts of the sorter and “gum up the works”, causing hours of daily delays and potential harm to the machine. Sorters often becomes so clogged that regular material can’t fall through, preventing it from being recycled properly. At the Waste Management plant in Newark, where Middletown’s recycling is processed, the sorting mechanism needs to be cleaned out twice in a 10 hour shift in order to remove contaminants, mainly plastic bags, from the screen (see picture below). This process takes about 45 minutes each time, costing Waste Management a significant amount of time and labor.
Also, when recycling is disposed of in plastic garbage bags, it prevents the items inside from being recycled. Workers at the recycling plant do not open garbage bags, so when people dispose of recycling in bags, it is not recycled.
Plastic bags interfere with the recycling process, cut down on quality and drive up the cost of recycling.
How Recycling Plastic Bags Impacts Taxpayers
Recycling plastic bags properly not only helps the environment but will also directly impact taxpayers by saving the Township money. Currently, the cost of time and labor in removing plastic bags, along with the cost of properly disposing of them, will result in a higher cost of waste removal for the town as a whole. On the other hand, if residents dispose of plastic bags properly, it would result in a cleaner recycling stream. Because plastic bags account for over 70% of recycling contamination in Middletown, decreasing the number of bags in the stream will significantly reduce that percentage. The cleaner the recycling stream, the more profitable the recycling product will be, which will in turn raises the value of the product.
How to Properly Dispose of Plastic Bags
There are several easy ways to dispose of plastic bags. Many stores in Middletown, including Stop & Shop, Shop Rite and Target accept plastic bags free of charge. Collection bins are usually located within the store’s entrance. When recycled properly (using a different system than single stream recycling), plastic bags are valuable and can be created into products such as decking, playground equipment, and fences.