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Recycling Right: Understanding why plastic film can’t go in the commingled recycling cart

Plastic film, plastic shrink wrap, plastic overwrap and other soft plastic packaging is used for a variety of packaging types. Products that don’t use cardboard packaging — such as paper towels, toilet paper and bread — use plastic film. It’s also used to make dry cleaning bags, plastic grocery and take-out bags, and the garbage bags you use at home. Sometimes case products, such as water bottles, are shrink-wrapped with plastic film. The plastic air pillows used as cushioning for shipped packages are made from plastic film too. And you’ll find different types of plastic film used throughout the grocery store — everything from cereal box liners and the film sealing frozen meals to the clear plastic bags in the produce department for bringing home fruits and vegetables.

The challenge of trying to recycle plastic film

Because of its thin, stretchy, clingy nature — which makes it useful for packaging purposes — plastic film is difficult to recycle without specialized equipment. When mixed with other recyclables and run through machines today, plastic film tangles the mechanisms and jams the machines used to sort recyclables — endangering workers who put themselves at risk trying to clean it out of the equipment at the materials sorting facility.

Bottom line: In the curbside recycling cart, plastic films of all types are a contaminant — and having them in the cart can cause the entire load to be unusable for recycling.

What to do with plastic film

Like most curbside recycling programs in the United States, we do not accept any type of plastic film for recycling — either at the curb or at the Transfer Station.

Currently, plastic grocery bags, Ziplock-type bags, and other types of plastic film can be recycled — but in order to do so, you need to take them to a grocery store that accepts plastic film for recycling. Typically, those stores have a bin near the entrance clearly marked for the collection of plastic bags. Keep in mind that in order to be recycled, the bags and other types of plastic film must be completely clean and dry, with no food residue or debris on the plastic.

To find out where you can recycle plastic bags and other types of plastic film in southern Oregon, check out this handy resource. Just type in your address or zip code and a list of all locations accepting plastic film for recycling pop up — along with the specific types of plastic film they currently accept.

If you can’t collect plastic film to be taken to an area location for recycling, please put it into your trash container, not your recycling cart.

Thank you for recycling right!

A few years ago, Rogue Disposal & Recycling adopted a list of specific items that CAN go into our red-lid recycling carts. This includes corrugated cardboard, tin and aluminum cans, plastic milk jugs (and similar #1 and #2 plastics where the neck of the bottle is smaller than the base) and newspaper. Thanks to your continued efforts and vigilance, we’ve been able to find consistent markets for all the materials we collect. Keeping plastic film out of the commingled cart helps us keep the stream clean so other materials can be properly sorted and recycled.

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