Why Plastic Bags Are Bad For Your Blue Bin

The City of St. Louis does NOT accept plastic bags or plastic film for recycling, even if they are marked with recycling arrows or a plastic resin number.  

Why Can’t I Put Them In My Blue Bin?

Red-Circle-plastic bagIn St. Louis, recycling is really easy because we can mix all of our recyclables together in the same blue bin.  This is called single stream recycling (aka mixed recycling or commingled recycling).  While it makes it easy for you and I to recycle, those items must be sorted back out later to be useful for manufacturers.  To do this, all of the recyclables collected from City alley dumpsters and curbside rollcarts are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted and separated.  The MRF uses a combination of automated machinery and manual laborers to separate the materials.

If a laborer is able to get their hands on a plastic bag full of materials as recyclables fly down the sorting line, it, along with its contents, will get sent to the landfill.  As the separation process continues, plastic bags can become entangled in the machines, causing breakdowns which shut down the entire sorting line.  When plastic bags clog up the machinery, it takes time and money to get the equipment back into working order.  Since our MRF does not want plastic bags clogging up their machines, we cannot accept them for recycling.

What Can I Do To Help Stop Plastic Bag Contamination?

Recycle Them Elsewhere

You can recycle plastic bags and other plastic films (like zip lock bags, bread bags, etc.) by taking them to many big box retailers and grocery stores.  Most grocery stores have plastic bag recycling drop-off collection boxes near the entrance of the store that are marked with Recycle Responsibly images. 

Reduce Your Use

Join the St. Louis Zoo ALIVE teen volunteers and say #ByeToBags!

Say, “No, thanks,” when your purchase does not require a bag.

Choose paper bags if you don’t have reusable bags…then recycle the paper bags in your Blue Bin!

If a plastic bag is necessary, ask the sales clerk to avoid double bagging your purchases.

Use durable, reusable, washable cloth bags and take them with you when you go grocery shopping.

Carry a reusable bag with you (or keep it in your car) for unexpected shopping trips.

Choose to Reuse

Reuse your plastic bags multiple times before recycling them at the grocery store.

Make a throw pillow out of scrap fabric and stuff it with plastic bags.

Cut the bags into strips, tie them together and crochet or knit a hand bag, throw rug or place mats. (You can find many patterns online or modify a pattern you may already have.)

When moving or mailing breakable items, wrap them with plastic bags.

Use them as trash liners or as “gloves” to pick up animal droppings.

But, It’s Okay To Put Them In The Trash, Right?

Plastic bags can cause problems in trash cans too.  While, it may be convenient to use them as trash can liners, empty plastic bags are the ultimate escape artists.  They fly out of open trash cans and pollute the environment by getting stuck in trees, washing down sewer drains that flow into our rivers and being mistaken as food by wildlife.  Even if they make it to the landfill, they can blow away there too.  That’s right, plastic bags are a problem even for landfills!  So, even if you throw plastic bags away properly, they can still end up polluting the environment.

So, the moral of the story is that with all of the problems associated with plastic bags, the best option is to avoid them completely.  But, if that’s not possible, be sure to NEVER put them in your blue recycling dumpster or roll-cart and ALWAYS take them back to a local retailer to be recycled.


  • Linda Stein says:

    I am so frustrated with my neighbors who constantly put their recycling into plastic grocery bags and then throw the whole thing into the blue dumpster. I’m in a neighborhood with multiple use buildings and have no idea who does this so I can’t speak directly to them. Is there anything I can do to help anonymous neighbors understand how to recycle? The bin is clearly marked with the recycling guidelines already.

    • Elysia Musumeci says:

      We understand Linda! We’re trying to get more and more residents to understand why it’s important to keep recyclables loose and that plastic bags can be recycled at the grocery store. To help your neighbors, perhaps you could share some recycling information with them? We have the Ultimate Waste Disposal Guide, accepted materials refrigerator magnets and Recycling 101 Sheets. All of which explain how to recycle properly. We’d love to get some in your hands if you’d like to share them with your neighbors. Let us know how we can help you!

      • Zach Morris says:

        I would love to get my hands on those 101s as well!

        Especially knowing the fact that the blue bin near my home is always full of trash bags. Not to mention I have lived in the city for 5 years now and honestly have not known that it was truly a free for all to recycle.

        But now I am pumped.

        • Elysia Musumeci says:

          We’re pumped too!! Call or email us to get the info you need! Also, all of our info is available to download on our website. Go to Resources, then Downloads. 🙂

  • Jo Donze says:

    There is someone, or more than one person, putting large plastic
    bags in the recycle dumpsters. Others put large boxes in them without breaking them down. Our dumpsters get so full that one person put one of the large plastic bags in and a lot of the stuff fell out into the alley.
    Of course, the person did not pick it up. I did, but put some in the trash dumpster, since the recycle was overflowing.

    • Elysia Musumeci says:

      Jo- Thanks for keeping an eye out in your alley! With our shared dumpster system, we all have to remember, “Sharing is caring!” We encourage all neighbors to recycle materials loose (no plastic bags please) and breakdown their boxes. Thank you for picking up fallen items to keep your block looking tidy. If your dumpsters are constantly overflowing or you think your alley could benefit from an additional recycling dumpster, please report this to the Citizens’ Service Bureau (314) 622-4800. Thank you! 🙂

  • Teresa McCaw says:

    What are the steps to take if someone is using the recycling bin as a regular trash bin?

    • Good question! First, make sure the trash bin is as close as possible to the recycling bin so that someone is able to make an appropriate decision without having to walk 10 extra steps to get to the trash or recycling bin. This will help cut down on improper recycling and/or recyclables being thrown in the trash. Second, signage is critical. People need to know what is accepted in the recycling bin and also what is not accepted. You are welcome to use any of the materials we have created. You can download and print any of our signage on from our resources tab. Keep your signage simple, at eye level and as close as possible to the recycling bin so people are able to make a confident decision whether they can recycle their item or need to discard it in the trash. Finally, if you are able, have conversation with the group who is using the recycling bin. A five minute overview about what is recyclable and what is not can go a long way to mitigate common recycling issues. Applying this three steps will go a long way to reducing trash in the recycling bin as well as recycling in the trash bin!

  • Mira Martin says:

    I thought it was interesting how the article mentioned that recycling 30% of our trash can equate to saving 11.9 billion gallons of gasoline! I think recycling is more simple than we make it out to be sometimes. It’s as easy as keeping your recyclable bottles out of the trash, and into the recycling bin.

  • Carrie Hoffman says:

    Are garbage bags acceptable to put recycling in?

    • Samantha Villaire says:

      Hello, thanks for your question. No, garbage bags (or any type of plastic bag or film) is not accepted in our Blue Bin recycling. The only type of plastic we accept are plastic bottles and containers. (Water/drink bottles, condiment bottles, cleaning materials, shampoo etc.). Plastic bags and film can be recycled back at a local grocery store, but never in our Blue Bins. Thanks for recycling responsibly!

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