Ask Us: Plastic Bags are a Big Problem at Recycling Facilities | Local News


Question: I have a question about recycling. I was under the impression that we should not put our recycling in plastic bags before putting them in the container. However, I see garbage cans in our neighborhood and elsewhere with bags every two weeks so the truck has to take them. Are these treated in the establishment? I think if this is a problem, collectors should leave a note clarifying what to do, or if this continues, just stop picking up their recycling.

A: The reader’s impression is correct: People should not put their recyclables in plastic bags, and these bags cause problems that can potentially result in the end of cans, bottles, newspapers and other suitable recyclables in the shops. waste incinerators.

First, a quick look at what happens to your recyclables in Mankato after you roll the cart to the curb, courtesy of Molly Kjellesvig, who works with Waste and Recycling for the Resources Department and environmental real estate in Blue Earth County.

Private carriers collect recyclables from businesses and homes and take them to the county recycling center.

“At the recycling center, we are really just a transfer station for recyclable materials, so no sorting of any kind is done there. It is removed from the ground and packed into semi-trailers that take the recyclables from Blue Earth County to a material recovery facility (MRF) in the cities, ”Kjellesvig said.

This is where elaborate sorting machines separate the different types of materials.

“The first part of the process is the sorting line where workers hand select recycling ‘contaminants’ such as plastic bags,” she said. “They tear up the bags and pour the recyclables on the line. “

With tons of material crossing the line, workers are unable to spot and grab every plastic bag.

“Up to five times a day, they have to shut down the entire line so workers can cut out equipment ‘scramblers’ – items that get tangled around sorting equipment, such as plastic bags “said Kjellesvig. “Using hook knives and saws, they have to climb into equipment to cut plastic bags, garden hoses, string lights and an occasional sweatshirt that has wrapped around the trees. rotators that help separate paper from cans and bottles. Bags can even break equipment, so overall they are a HUGE cost to MRFs.

In addition, if the number of bags rolling on the line is excessive, workers will not have time to tear them up and empty the recyclables, resorting to throwing the entire bag in the trash to keep pace.

Finally, if the plastic bags manage to slip throughout the process, they end up in bales of cardboard or other sorted materials. These bales, which would otherwise be valuable to recyclers, become essentially worthless because a manufacturer will not purchase a cardboard bale contaminated with plastic bags.

“Again, it’s really important that residents and businesses do their part to prevent this curbside by simply emptying their recyclables from the plastic bags,” she said.

OK, so here’s the summary from Ask Us Guy on why people should get rid of them with plastic bags: Plastic bags in the recycling stream make life a little more miserable and dangerous for people working on the site. sorting chain; they can cause recyclable materials to be thrown in the trash rather than their recycling; they can increase costs for FRMs and reduce their revenues by contaminating bales with otherwise valuable recyclable materials; a large portion of the garbage / recycling fees that homeowners and businesses pay go to the disposal of materials, so the increased costs and reduced revenue of an FRM will eventually be passed on as a fee higher garbage / recycling rates.

Then there is the reader’s suggestion that carriers should leave educational notes for customers who make the mistake of putting plastic bags in their recycling cart.

This is an issue for the cities, which are responsible under state law for overseeing garbage collection, Kjellesvig said.

“Some municipalities – not in Blue Earth County – will ‘tag’ where they attempt to educate a resident, and if the same contaminants continue to appear in their curbside trash, they will apply contamination fees.” on their utility bills or they ask carriers not to completely collect their recycling, ”she said. “Ultimately, it is up to the cities in our county to decide how best to educate their residents about the recycling system and whether or not they want to implement labeling or fines. “

In Mankato, West Central Sanitation has the municipal contract for garbage collection and recycling. Trucks drive through the Ask Us Guy neighborhood on Friday morning, and he’s noticed they don’t bother – barely stopping as they lift and unload one cart after another.

So it seems likely that inspecting the contents of the carts, leaving a note for those with poor recycling habits, and spotting those who are repeat violators would slow drivers down enough that West Central would have to factor it into its charges. bill to the city.

West Central owner Don Williamson did not answer this question directly, but echoed Kjellesvig’s comments on the problems caused by plastic bags and hinted that the educational work went with the contract of ‘recyclable recovery facility – which in Mankato’s case is the county.

“Mankato chooses to use the Blue Earth County contract for the recovery of recyclable materials. We are just the carrier, ”said Williamson. “The Blue Earth website, under“ Environmental Resources, ”is a great place to find out how to prepare recyclables and what is acceptable. “

Finally, many plastic bags can be recycled if people are willing to collect them and put them in trash cans in supermarkets and a few other places. The Free Press covered this topic in an article on May 6.

Contact us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to [email protected]; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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