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Because You Asked

Should I Bag My Curbside Recyclables?

By Recyclebank |

Watching paper fly away during recycling pickups can be discouraging, but how can you ensure your lightweight recyclables get from bin to truck?

Dear Recyclebank: Following a recyclables pickup, I frequently find light recyclables, especially mail and envelopes, on my sidewalk and street. I watched once as they were loaded and saw these items fly away as the can was being lifted and dumped. I've seen clear recycling bags at the supermarket and wondered if these are allowable to contain recycling so they end up in the truck as planned. –Joanne G.

Dear Joanne: As with so many recycling conundrums, the short answer is that it depends on your local hauler. Most programs ask consumers to leave items loose in the bin rather than bagging them, because plastic bags — whether they’re loose plastic grocery bags or large plastic bags containing your recyclables — can be tricky to recycle. Bags get caught in machinery that isn't designed to handle them, slowing down operations and possibly damaging the equipment. This cuts into profit margins considerably. The Chicago Tribune interviewed an area recycling director who estimated that his plant loses $9500 a month in labor costs alone, and these costs end up passed along to you. If your city hasn't explicitly specified that they can go in the bin, please don't try those "recycling" bags out!

That said, there are a few municipalities that do collect plastic bags curbside, such as Seattle, WA, and Madison, WI. Generally, these are places with the proper equipment to process plastic bags, though restrictions may still apply (Seattle and Madison both require all bags to be put in one bag). Alternately, the handler may send them to another location, as would happen to bags that go through a drop-off recycling program like you might see in your grocery store. Still, this process requires sorting and shipping. Even if the handler recycles bags on site, dealing with an extra bag requires time and energy that adds up.

If you're concerned about light recyclables getting loose, and your recycling program is single-stream, consider putting heavier recyclables on top to hold down lighter recyclables until the can is put out for pick up. Better yet, contact your handler directly. They should be able to tell you how they would prefer loose papers to be handled; for instance, some programs ask that shredded paper be put in a brown paper bag. Hearing from you may also help them identify ways their pickup methods could create less litter.

Chicago Tribune
City of Madison
Recycle Nation



What tips and tricks have you learned for keeping your curbside recycling tidy? Share in the comments below!

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  • Diane T. 6 months ago
    Hi everyone. My small town does not do recycling pick up. We save ours and then when the box for papers and the bag for aluminum cans gets full, we take it to a nearby transfer station. They offer free recycling.
  • Steven S. 6 months ago
    Posted Wednesday, November 3, 2021
  • Javier M. 6 months ago
    " Should I Bag My Curbside Recyclables?" How about "Bag Your Face"? A song reference that shows my age, for anyone who recognizes it.
  • randy f. 6 months ago
    . . . just don't make it Tooo Top Heavy ! Cause you know a stiff breeze is gonna blow through and you're going to have a whole driveway of trash along with broken glass!

    >>Re: Put heavier recyclables towards the top of your recycling container to help hold down lighter recyclables that could fall out and end up as litter.<<
  • randy f. 1 year ago
    (╯°□° ) On A Truly Personal Note: {Off Topic}

    Even if you will not be doing your "Democratic Duty" [£lection Day 2020]
    could you please think, consider Just Being Diplomatic . . . in your day to day life?
    You ARE free to be you but can't you please choose to be a little more kind to one another? We're picking each other apart and becoming insulted/ offended at anything
    and everything. Cancelling Everyone ! Starting little wars everywhere. Discarding of so much and so many.

    After seeing what is happening in France over a cartoon, or closer to home in our churches & synagogues OR the blocking our emergency highways & police stations ~ we may want to rethink what's happening to our society . . . our souls!

    In other words: Be kind to Earth AND each other.
    If recycling can get so much attention and thought why can't human relations ?

    @}~}~~~ Just A Thought -------------{{---<((@)

    • Cindy C. 1 year ago
      Most of this hatred started up 4 years ago when Soros didn't get his choice for President. He used some of his billions for the last 4 years downgrading the President and those who supported him. It is scary to see how money can cause such havoc and hatred. Thanks for your comment.
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