Plastic bags don't belong in blue bins

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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) Plastic bags can be a challenge for recyclers to deal with and they litter many communities. But others argue they are a real convenience. As more communities adopt single-use plastic bag bans the debate rages on.

Brattleboro is the only place in Vermont to have a citywide ban on plastic bags. There have been proposed bills to tax single-use plastic bags or even get rid of them across Vermont, but none of them have made it to the governor's desk.

Some say they wouldn't make a difference environmentally, while others say it's bad for businesses, especially if people blame the stores and not the state.

Charles Scott of St. George recycles weekly. He says he doesn't like using plastic bags because they are made through a chemical process and it’s just not natural.

"The trouble is, they are so darn convenient. We aren't making the rest of the world as convenient as plastic bags should be," Scott said.

He admits the convenience is enticing and he uses single-use plastic bags.

According to a study by Penn State University, the average American family accumulates 60 bags in four trips to the grocery store, so it's not surprising people want to try to do the right thing and recycle them. However, they don't belong in a blue bin.

Jonny Finity of Chittenden Solid Waste District wouldn't comment on how a single-use plastic bag ban would impact the sorting facility in Williston. He did say seeing fewer plastic bags would help out and make a big difference there. That's for two reasons; the first is the machines can't process plastic bags.

"A plastic bag is very easily tangled up in equipment. Any type of sorting equipment has a lot of gears and moving parts that a plastic bag will get caught up in," Finity said.

The second reason is recycling them inappropriately creates a safety hazard for employees at the sorting facilities.

"When people put plastic bags in the recycling bin, they get caught in our equipment. We have to shut down our facility multiple times a day and workers have to climb into the equipment and cut them out, so it creates a safety problem for us there," Finity said.

Charles Scott says he would like to see a tax on plastic bags and an alternative given for free.

"Individual cloth bags being given out," he said. "Why shouldn't that be free?"

Officials says just because something can't go in the recycling bin doesn't mean it can't be recycled. Plastic bags go into a specific category called "special recycling" and most grocery stores will accept plastic bags to be recycled.