Phoenix recycling officials say that plastic bags cost the city approximately $1 million every year in lost time, mainly due to machine jams and other contamination.
The city runs a plastic bag drop-off program in alliance with the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, where residents can bring several different kinds of plastic bags to certain grocery stores and dispose of them. Despite the program being around for 10 years, improper recycling of the lightweight bags is still a major headache for the city.
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“(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.”
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.