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When the city of San Diego announced Nov. 15 that it is accepting once-forbidden plastics in blue bins — stuff like yogurt cups and berry containers — it also noted a few things that still shouldn’t be blue-binned.
Two readers wondered about still-forbidden bits of waste: Plastic bags and Styrofoam.
I put their questions to Ken Prue, San Diego’s recycling program manager.
Why isn’t Styrofoam recyclable?
There isn’t much (if any) of a recycling market for the material.
Styrofoam peanuts and pieces of Styrofoam blocks would be very messy to collect and try to sort at the processing facilities. It would get mixed up with and contaminate other recyclable materials being separated. Many mail houses such as UPS, Mailboxes Etc. and FedEx/Kinkos will take them for reuse. Always call to confirm their current policy. Also, call the Peanut Hotline at 800.828.2214 for additional businesses that take packing peanuts. There is a local business, Cactus Recycling, that accepts Styrofoam blocks from businesses that generate large quantities.
Why aren’t plastic bags recyclable? What about plastic wrap? Or six-pack holders?
It is cost prohibitive to recycle plastic bags or other types of plastic film or plastic wrap in the curbside program. The recycled bags have little value, and when collected get badly contaminated, decreasing their value further. There are virtually no markets in the U.S. for curbside-recovered plastic bags, and international markets are not much better. A bigger problem with collecting plastic bags curbside is that they get wound up in collection and processing equipment, requiring maintenance that costs money and time, and creates inefficiencies for processing all the recyclables.
Returning plastic bags to your supermarket is the most effective way to recycle them. The plastics stay clean and recyclable. The clean bags are backhauled to the chains’ warehouses where they are baled and either returned to the original suppliers or sold to other markets such as manufacturers of plastic lumber. Even better is to bring your own reusable bags when you shop.