Plastic Bags Pose Big Problems

Plastic bags pose big problems at the county’s solid waste and recycling facilities.

The Prince George’s Group has been active in trying to reduce the use of single-use plastic grocery bags to prevent litter and protect wildlife.  While they are not a major component of the county’s solid waste stream, plastic bags were cited as a problem by officials at the recycling, landfill, and yard waste facilities visited by the Group earlier this month.

The single-stream recycling facility accepts plastic bags but prefers that customers leave them in the recycling bins at grocery stores or –- better yet –- use a reusable bag instead. Plastic bags tossed into the curbside recycling containers become contaminated with other recyclables (reducing their value) and jam equipment during the sorting process. 

Most yard waste arrives in plastic bags that are not biodegradable.

In 2012 the facility spent more than $110,000 of labor time removing plastic bags from jammed equipment. The bags left at grocery stores are less contaminated and are sent directly to a company that converts them to plastic planks.

Most yard waste arrives in plastic bags that are not compostable.  The bags are shredded along with the yard waste in the process of making mulch, and the plastic must be extracted through an expensive process. The shredded plastic is picked up by the wind and blown across the yard into fences and natural areas surrounding the yard waste facility; the plastic is contaminated and not recyclable. As of January 1, 2014, the county will no longer accept yard waste in plastic bags.  Consumers should put yard waste in containers or in paper bags, which are recyclable.

Shredded plastic from yard waste bags blows across the facility and sometimes into the environment. Photo credit: Martha Ainsworth



At the landfill, plastic bags in the trash take flight on windy days and special fences are erected to try to catch them. The bird population can get snagged in the bags.


Fences erected at the landfill attempt to capture plastic bag trash on a windy day. Photo credit: Tom Wach