Ask the Councillor: Can people put plastic bags in their recycling, as Hamilton allows?

marianne meed ward ward 2 Burlington city councillorResident N.R. asks:

Can you comment on how we handle plastic bags? Can people put them in their recycling?



In order to accept plastic bags, the processing facility situated in Burlington that receives all curbside Blue Box material would be required to purchase and install, at a significant price, a mechanical bag breaker and a vacuum system to effectively separate plastic bags and film from the other recyclable commodities.  Halton Region’s current agreement with the Burlington facility ends in April 2018.


The few municipalities that accept plastic bags in the Blue Box program do encounter processing challenges at their facilities due to the nature of plastic bags and film.  Due to their lightweight, plastic becomes caught in equipment requiring routine downtime for maintenance.  Recyclable material such as metal and glass also become contaminated with plastic devaluing their commodity price when sold to be recycled.  Plastic bags and film are also a different category of plastic which means they cannot be processed together with plastic bottles, or plastic containers, but must be separated before plastic bottles and containers are bundled and shipped to markets.


For this reason, a number of municipalities are no longer accepting plastic bags and film or allowing households to place recyclable material in plastic bags prior to collection.  Halton Region strongly encourages residents to use, where and when possible, reusable bags.

When Halton Region develops their next Solid Waste Management Strategy (tentatively planned for 2017), they will closely watch any enhancements in processing technology with regards to handling plastic bags and film, and may request a price for plastic bags and film to be accepted in their next agreement to process Blue Box material.  They are also working with other municipalities to encourage the Province to implement extended producer responsibility initiatives to support municipal programs and to effectively streamline acceptable Blue Box material across the Province.  We anticipate the Province will implement enhanced and extended waste diversion legislation in the coming year or two.


Some local grocery stores do take back plastic bags.  Halton’s Take It Back website provides information about plastic shopping bags and includes a link to the Canadian Plastic Industry Association on-line tool to search for a local store that accepts plastic bags.


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