Phoenix recycling officials: Plastic bags contribute to lost time worth about $1 million

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(Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News) (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News)
Lucas Mariacher, the Zero Waste coordinator for the city, looks out over bales of plastic at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station in Phoenix. (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News) Lucas Mariacher, the Zero Waste coordinator for the city, looks out over bales of plastic at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station in Phoenix. (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News)
Plastic bag recycling bins are set up at the front of Safeway on McDowell Road in Phoenix. Officials urge residents to use the bins to properly recycle plastic bags. (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News) Plastic bag recycling bins are set up at the front of Safeway on McDowell Road in Phoenix. Officials urge residents to use the bins to properly recycle plastic bags. (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News)
Phoenix Public Works Solid Waste Superintendent Chad Hardy oversees production at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station. (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News) Phoenix Public Works Solid Waste Superintendent Chad Hardy oversees production at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station. (Source: Miles Metke/Cronkite News)
A worker at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station in Phoenix moves bins full of plastic material. (Source: by Miles Metke/Cronkite News) A worker at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station in Phoenix moves bins full of plastic material. (Source: by Miles Metke/Cronkite News)

By Nicole Randock, Cronkite News

PHOENIX (Cronkite) – City officials say they’ve made great strides in persuading residents to divert recyclable waste from landfills, but one big problem continues to plague them: plastic bags.

Plastic bags routinely jam the machines at the recycling plant. Officials estimate they lose about $1 million a year in lost time because of improper recycling, mostly because of flimsy, plastic bags.

“(People) tend to think that because it’s plastic, it is recyclable,” said Chad Hardy, the solid waste superintendent for Phoenix. “And they don’t understand the way the machinery works – its belts, its conveyors, its drums, its beaters – and when those things are moving, the plastic bags get stuck in there. And there’s no weight to them, so they aren’t able to move through the system.”

[RELATED: Phoenix launches recycling rewards program]

Mounds of recyclables whiz by on conveyor belts before they’re sorted and prepared for resale. The machinery at the transfer stations shuts down once or twice per day because of non-recyclable items.

The 27th Avenue and North Gateway transfer stations process about 250 tons of recycling each day, and officials estimate about 30 percent of that is contaminated.

[SLIDESHOW: Plastic bags jam recycling machines costing you money]

“We have to get the education out, and we need the residents to recycle more, but also recycle properly,” said Lucas Mariacher, the Zero Waste coordinator for the city.

The City partnered with the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance for its Bag Central Station program, which allows residents to return plastic bags – including sandwich bags, bubble wrap and dry-cleaning bags – to certain grocery stores. The program celebrated its 10th anniversary this week.

[RELATED: Phoenix green waste recycling program plagued with low participation]

To find a full list of plastic recycling collection locations, visit PlasticFilmRecycling.org.

[PDF: What is recyclable in Phoenix?]

What can go in your recycle bin?

Paper products

  • Office paper, mail, newspaper, magazines and pamphlets, paper bags, food and beverage cartons (these often contain milk, juice, soup, cream, beans, water, or broth, etc.)

Hard plastic products

  • Jugs, bottles, jars, cups, to-go containers

Metal products

  • Steel/tin food cans, aluminum beverage cans, party trays, aluminum foil

Cardboard products

  • Boxes, clean pizza boxes (no grease, if the bottom is greasy, then recycle just the top half), food packaging boxes

Glass products

  • Bottles, jars

REMEMBER: All materials must be emptied of liquids and free of food scraps and grease before tossing them in the container.

What CANNOT go in your recycle bin?

Batteries

  • All batteries: Vehicle batteries, rechargeable batteries, alkaline, lithium ion, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride batteries

Thin paper products

  • Tissue paper, toilet paper, paper towels, napkins

Soft plastics

  • All flexible and stretchable plastics: plastic kitchen bags, plastic shopping bags, thin film plastics, candy wrappers, chip bags

Large metal items

  • Metal sheets, electronics, car parts, hoses, lights

Greasy cardboard food containers

  • Greasy pizza boxes, greasy to-go containers

Specialty glass items

  • Light bulbs, ceramics, sheets of glass

Miscellaneous

  • Polystyrene (ex. StyrofoamTM), grass, yard waste, food waste, clothing, diapers, garden hoses


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