SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Multiple companies in the Sioux Falls area offer garbage and recycling services, but one throughline among them all is that they do not accept plastic bags.
Marissa Begley, marketing director for Millennium Recycling, explained why.
Millennium recycling, said Begley, is a single-stream operation, meaning that all recyclables go into one bin and are sorted as they enter the facility. In order for this sorting, done automatically, to be completed, the recyclables must be loose in the bin.
In the past, before the introduction of new sorting robots, Begley said employees had to remove the bags themselves, ripping them open to empty them. Workers could not see what was in the bag in advance, which she added was a safety concern.
Now the issue is that the bags, which themselves are not recyclable, are not visible to the machine, and when they run through it, they can catch and bind up the machinery, which then has to be cleared out by workers. This presents a safety issue as well, said Begley.
Millennium’s new AI robots, Begley added, can now identify and pull out bags automatically.
Don Kuper, landfill manager for the City of Sioux Falls, also spoke with KELOLAND on the issue.
Kuper explained that the City has a goal of extending the life of the landfill, and a large part of that is working with garbage and recycling contractors around the area to ensure the correct materials make it to the correct location. After all, the more recyclables that actually get recycled, the longer it will take to fill the landfill.
Kuper and Begley both explained that plastic bags cannot be recycled by the majority of operations. Part of this, Begley noted is due to cleanliness. She explained that while there are ways in which plastic bags can be recycled, they require the bags to be clean. When mixed in with other recyclables, the bags become too dirty to be used.
There are some programs, including some found at supermarkets where bins are available to recycle plastic bags, though Begley noted that some recent news coverage has found these wind up in landfills anyway.
If the bags are in your home, and you don’t have access to a place that will recycle them, unfortunately, the only place for them is the trash.
With this in mind, Kuper explained the best way to do it, instructing that you should take all bags and tie them up inside one plastic bag, consolidating them for the garbage.
Kuper recognized that it may be hard for some people to hear and accept that the most likely outcome for all their plastic bags is in a spot in the landfill. He did however express a hope that technological advancement will catch up with the issues surrounding recycling plastic bags.
Ultimately, Begley summed up her own approach: Use less plastic. If you’re at the store and paper bags are an option, opt for those. Begley added that paper bags are recyclable, noting that they simply need to be placed in the bin with their top open so that the recyclables within can be poured out.