Framingham Recycles: What To Do With Plastic Bags

Editor’s Note: This is a new weekly column by the Recycling Coordinator for the City of Framingham.

Residents can submit questions to Recycling Coordinator Stephen Sarnosky via SOURCE at


FRAMINGHAM – You may have heard about how cities and towns in Massachusetts are considering banning or have banned single-use plastic bags to prevent these bags from ending up as hazards to both humans and wildlife.

It’s not easy to know what to do with used plastic bags, or what happens to them when they leave your hands. Overall, everything about plastic bags’ post-use afterlife seems unclear and misunderstood.

Not all types of plastics are easily recycled as you may have been lead to believe.

The most highly valued plastics such as water bottles and plastic milk jugs, for example, are routinely recycled and accepted by most recycling programs. Not so for the lowly plastic bag, which is typically made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and may have the #4 stamped on the bag.

Though the type of plastic used in bags (LDPE) is recyclable, very few curbside recycling programs accept these plastic bags, including Framingham’s. Why?

Because recycling plastic bags is a challenging task.

“Plastic bags cause problems in all our operations,” according to B.J. Harvey at E.L. Harvey, the City’s recycling processor.

Bag collection, sorting, cleaning, and quality control are costly for most Material Recovery Facilities. In addition, bags tend to clog recycling facility machines and will wrap around and jam recycling equipment. This results in added costs to municipalities because the bags need to be removed from the affected equipment – a time-intensive task.

So when consumers drop plastic bags off in a curbside recycling bin, they maybe do more harm than good.

Instead of being recycled, the bags only clog up machinery or escape into the environment.

So what to do with those pesky plastic bags?

Consider switching to reusable bags when doing your shopping tasks. When disposing of plastic bags, be mindful that the only reliable place you can usefully dispose of them is at your local grocery store. Look for a drop-off bin at the store’s entrance. These bags will most likely be turned into products like fence posts and composite lumber.

And lastly, reuse your plastic bags, and at their life’s end simply recycle them at the grocery store, or throw them in your refuse cart. In this regard, chances are your plastic bags will begin a new life has a renewable energy source at a waste to energy facility.

Recycling Q & A

Thank you for your recycling questions from previous articles. I’d be happy to answer them as we go along.

Regarding greasy pizza boxes, a reader asked: Are paper liners used in to-go containers recyclable?

Typically the liners are used to create a barrier between the box and your food item. These liners will very often contain grease and food and may contain wax.

Waxed paper is not recyclable. Like the greasy pizza box, please throw the liners in with your refuse.

Another reader would like to know: “Considering recent changes in recycling, could Steven provide an updated list of what can/cannot be recycled, excluding food products, of course.”

The recycling environment changes much like the stock market. However, there are items that are a standard in the recycling world.

A quick and easy way to find out what can and cannot be recycled nowadays is to visit the City of Framingham’s Sanitation Department’s website and locate the Waste Wizard. The Wizard will let you know which items can be recycled and which one’s cannot and what to do with them. The list of do’s and don’ts is exhaustive, and in this regard the Wizard
will be very helpful.

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: Phone: 508-315-7176

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