This is a paid piece from Millennium Recycling.
Simplified: Sioux Falls residents haven't been able to recycle plastic bags in their mixed recycling bins since 2019, but Millennium Recycling still sees them come through anyway. Here's what you need to know about why plastic bags aren't accepted in your bin.
Why it matters
- Plastic bags are one of the most labor-intensive items to sort out at Millennium Recycling, largely because the machines that sort recyclable materials cannot sort out plastic bags. That means team members have to manually take them off the line.
- When the bags get missed, they get caught up in equipment. Sometimes they can melt together, gum up machines and even cause the entire plant to shut down to cut them out.
- In addition to the extra work and extra cost, when bags are mixed in with other recyclables, they are too dirty and end-users will not accept them. So even if the bags could be sorted out, there's no one to take them to be recycled at the end of the day.
"The only types of plastic we are able to accept are bottles, tubs and jugs," said Marissa Begley, communications and education director at Millennium Recycling. "If it's plastic, and it's not one of those containers, it should not be in the bin."
Why did the rules around plastic bags change?
In June 2019, Millennium Recycling announced it could no longer accept plastic bags.
"The cost of recycling was going up immensely," President Shannon Dwire said. "A way for us to reduce the cost was to remove the high labor cost of handling bags and film."
At the same time costs increased, the market for plastic bags dropped out, Dwire added, meaning there was nowhere for Millennium to send the bags that were coming in.
The only option was to ban plastic bags from recycling bins – but even three years later, the single-stream recycling plant still spends hours daily dealing with the mess plastic bags cause in its system.
Are there any exceptions to the 'no plastic bags' rule?
Yes, just one.
Plastic bags should only be used when recycling shredded paper.
- Put the shredded paper into a clear plastic bag, and tie it shut. The team at Millennium Recycling will manually remove it from the line to recycle it.
So, what can I do with plastic bags?
There are still ways to recycle them. Places like Hy-Vee, Target, Kohls and more have spots to recycle plastic bags. These separate drop-off locations allow
the bags to stay clean, which makes them desirable for end-users who recycle them.
- You can find drop-off spots through two programs, TREX (details here) and WRAP (details here).
The best solution, though, is to use fewer plastic bags overall, Begley said.
- Do this by bringing reusable bags to the store, or opting for paper over plastic at checkout. Paper bags can be recycled in your bin.