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Let’s Talk Waste: Plastic Bags

October 17, 2018 — 

Welcome to the Office of Sustainability’s series on waste as part of Waste Reduction Week, an annual event celebrated across Canada and hosted by provincial organizations from coast to coast. Throughout the week, we will look at different forms of waste on campus and dive into some of the most prevalent topics in waste reduction.

Plastic Bags

What is the problem?

Plastic bags are one of – if not the – most misunderstood item in the world of waste reduction. Currently in Winnipeg, as well as many recycling facilities around the world, plastic bags cannot be processed as part of the blue bin system.

“But plastic bags are plastic, and I can recycle other plastics…what gives?” you may ask.

Plastics bags are not recyclable due to the technologies typically used to sort and process recyclable material in what’s called “single stream” recycling. Single stream recycling allows users to place all recyclable items into one place, which are then transported and separated at the point of processing; in Winnipeg’s case, the 4R depots.

This is the alternative to separated recycling, in which users are responsible for separating recyclables. More items are typically able to be recycled this way; however, it requires a high level of user knowledge to ensure materials are going in the right bin as well as space to store the required bins. This is where single stream recycling shines, as it is easy to use, execute and build facilities for.

Usually, single stream recycling facilities excel at sorting through items that are solid and therefore easy to move around through automated processes. Items that are soft and pliable, like shirts, carpets or plastic bags, are too difficult to separate in traditional equipment. Plastic bags end up caught in the machines and sent to the wrong material processing program or are stuck in the sorting process. Either way, these bags found in recycling bins eventually end up in the landfill.

What are we doing?

The U of M has partnered with Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM) to combat our plastic bag use on campus. MMSM is a non-profit organization that works with Manitoban industries and organizations on packaging and printed-paper recycling.

By partnering with this organization, the U of M collects plastic bags as part of their Bag it Forward campaign, which are reused by Winnipeg Harvest to pack hampers. Winnipeg Harvest uses more than one million bags every year to pack food hampers.

This partnership with MMSM will help reduce bags, keep plastic bags out of landfills and help Winnipeg Harvest get food to Manitoba families. In addition, most local grocery stores have a plastic bag-recycling program located at the front entrance if you are not near the university.

The U of M collects plastic bags through bins located at:

  • UMSU University Centre (by UMSU office)
  • University College Residence
  • Pembina Hall Residence
  • Mary Speechly Hall
  • Arthur V. Mauro Residence
  • Andrews College Residence
  • John’s College Residence

This is an excellent option for students, staff and faculty who are interested in recycling their plastic bags. Dispose of bags purchased on campus, or bring your plastic bags from home and recycle them through this program.

Of course, the best waste is no waste! Choosing to bring reusable bags to the grocery store can reduce a significant amount of plastic bags destined to the landfill. Remember, first determine how best to reduce your use of this item, then reuse them when you can. And if you can’t, remember that they can be recycled through the Bag it Forward program at the U of M.

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