Madison is no longer accepting bundles of plastic bags in recycling containers because of how they hurt recycling sorters and the lack of market large quantities of thin-film plastic from recycling centers. 

Before the change, Madison Recycling Coordinator Bryan Johnson said Madison residents could group plastic bags, like ones from grocery stores, and put them in with the rest of their recycling. Because this type of plastic is prevalent in most households, Johnson said Madison and recycling partner Pellitteri Waste Systems tried to create a system to recycle them, but the plastic caused too many problems for machines and proved difficult to sell. 

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“We were the only one in the state even trying for as long as we did because of how they tangle up equipment,” Johnson said. “[Plastic bags] are like the number one containment system-wide because it just seizes up the machinery.” 

The thin plastic is also difficult to sell out of recycling facilities like Pellitteri, Johnson said. Companies that accept this type of plastic prefer to source it directly from grocery stores and other retailers because the plastic is often cleaner and drier than what is collected from residents’ bins, Johnson said. 

Though Madison will not accept bundles of plastic bags to recycle, Johnson said there are still ways to recycle this type of plastic, including searching for retailers that accept it.

“Really the biggest bang for your buck that you can do is avoid creating the waste wherever you can,” Johnson said. “Like taking reusable bags to the store … or choosing paper bags at least if you happen to forget.”

Currently, Johnson said banning or taxing the use of plastic bags is not an option in Madison because state law prevents it. 

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Madison residents are still able to use plastic bags to hold other recyclables when disposing of them in their dumpster or curbside bin, but Johnson said leaving the items loose or using a bag that is see through would allow recycling employees to more easily sort the materials. 

Johnson said around 18.9% of what goes into recycling bins in Madison is not recyclable and contaminates the machines. 

“A lot of that is going to be from people that are ‘wish-cycling,’ is what we call it in the industry, where they just really wish it could be recycled or it kind of feels like a plastic thing … so you just throw it in the cart, hoping,” Johnson said. “We don’t want that, it could hurt the machinery or can be something unfortunate for the workers on the back end of it who sort through the recyclables by hand.”

Johnson said if residents are ever unsure about whether or not an item can be recycled, they can check Madison Recycling’s website or call.