Salt Lake City: No more plastic bags in curbside recycling

SALT LAKE CITY — All types of plastic bags — from grocery bags to garbage bags — are no longer allowed in Salt Lake City’s blue recycling bins.

City officials are gently trying to spread that message, hoping to educate residents about the costly and bothersome impacts plastic bags can have on recycling sorting equipment.

"It jams it up," said Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department director, noting that the sorters have "so many moving parts" that plastic bags gum up the equipment and have to be removed by hand.

Last week, the department posted on Facebook the city will "no longer be able to accept plastic bags" in the curbside bins.

"They get caught on machinery in recycling facilities, cause expensive delays, create significant litter and do not biodegrade," the post states. "Recycling processors around the country are not accepting them anymore, and this directly impacts Salt Lake City’s recycling program."

The city has been working toward phasing in the change since last year, and last week marked the beginning of a "soft launch" of the ban from the blue recycling bins.

In addition to grocery bags and garbage bags, dry cleaning bags and other plastic films — such as cling wrap — will no longer be accepted.

"We want people to understand we need their help," Bennett said. "That’s the only way any of this is going to work."

Bennett said the city doesn’t intend to fine offenders, but if there are households that continue to put plastic bags in their recycling bins, they might get a notice on their bin from the city.

"It’s one of those things that’s hard," she said, acknowledging some residents might not listen. "We’re not the green police."

Instead, city sustainability officials will continue to work to educate residents, Bennett said.

First and foremost, Bennett said her team is urging residents to stop using plastic bags altogether.

"Single-use plastic bags at the grocery store are the most wasteful things in the world," Bennett said.

Park City last year became the first city in Utah to ban plastic bags — though that ban only affects three grocery stores within the city.

Bennett said Salt Lake City officials have studied a ban of plastic bags, but such a law hasn’t gained any traction because a Salt Lake City-only ban could be problematic because it could deter grocery stores from locating in the city.

Instead, a statewide law would "make so much more sense," Bennett said.

"We would be so behind that," she said. "Then all the stores would be on even footing, everyone would have the same requirements no matter where you are."

But, Bennett added, "if no one else will step up, maybe we have to look at those options."

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