The City of St. Louis Refuse Division collects recyclables from residential recycling dumpsters and rollcarts, as well as 60+ drop-off recycling sites throughout the City. We accept commingled containers, commingled papers, and cardboard in all of our recycling containers. However, we DO NOT accept plastic bags or plastic film, even if they are marked with a plastic resin number.
All of the recyclables collected from City residents are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are separated. Some separation is done manually and some is done using machines. During the separation process, the plastic bags can become entangled in the machines, causing breakdowns. When plastic bags clog up the machinery, it takes time and money to get the equipment back into working order.
At this time, we do not have resources available to recycle plastic bags. But, below are suggestions about how you can reduce, reuse, and recycle your plastic bags. Also below is information about environmental problems that are caused by plastic bags, which demonstrate the need for properly managing them.
- Say "no, thanks" when your purchase does not require a bag.
- If a plastic bag is necessary, ask the sales clerk to avoid double bagging your purchases.
- Invest in durable, reusable, washable cloth bags and take them with you when you go grocery shopping.
- Take bags back to the store for reuse. Some stores offer a nominal discount (3 or 4 cents per bag) for shoppers who help them avoid the need to supply bags.
Before you recycle them, try to squeeze a little more life out of disposable plastic bags. Also, try to reuse your plastic bags multiple times before recycling them.
- Make a throw pillow out of scrap fabric and stuff it with plastic bags.
- Cut the bags into strips, tie them together and crochet or knit a hand bag, throw rug, or place mats. You can find many patterns on the Internet or modify a pattern you already have.
- When moving or mailing breakable items, wrap them with plastic bags.
- Use them as trash liners, or as "gloves" to pick up animal droppings.
Check with your grocers and retail stores. If they're not already recycling the bags they supply you with, let them know that they need to start providing such a service. If they are already recycling the bags they give out, support their efforts by buying the types of products that their bags are recycled into. Plastic bags can be recycled into things like more plastic bags, lumber, siding, drain pipes, and flower pots.
"But, Plastic Bags Are So Convenient..."
Because plastic bags have carrying handles and are lightweight, many people have been persuaded to use them. Plastic bags are perceived as inexpensive. Have you considered the real price that you're paying for this "convenience"?
Depleting Natural Resources
Plastics are made out of petroleum and natural gas, increasing our dependence on finite fossil fuel supplies. It has been estimated that 4%-8% of the entire world's oil is used in the production of plastics. Drilling for these resources also contributes to the destruction of fragile habitats and ecosystems around the world.
Polluting Our Rivers and Oceans
According to the Center for Marine Conservation, plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, birds, whales, and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Even if you don't live by the ocean, your plastic bag could end up there. Bags washed down storm drains or blown into rivers, often ending up in the ocean. Plastic bags have also caused deaths in land animals (e.g., polar bears, cows) that have ingested them.
Economic and Environmental Impacts
Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. If you do the math, that equals over 1 million plastic bags per minute. Billions end up in landfills and as litter on our land and in our water. In the U.S. alone, retailers give away over 100 billion plastic grocery bags annually costing an estimated $4 billion. You might think those bags are free, but retailers pass on the bill to consumers by increasing the price of goods and services.
Leaving A Legacy of Toxic Trash
Plastic bags take 400 - 1,000 years to degrade. Research has shown that instead of biodegrading, plastic photodegrades. With sunlight, plastic breaks up into small pieces. Each bit of plastic behaves like a sponge, soaking up toxic chemicals like PCB's and DDT, which can contaminate soil, water, and animals that mistakenly eat the plastic bits.