Why Are Plastic Bags So Bad For Your Recycling Bin?

Plastic and cloth being cut from recycling station machines © Planet Ark

Plastic and cloth being cut from recycling station machines

Keep plastic bags out of your home recycling - plastic bags can cause big problems when placed in your kerbside recycling bin.

Human health and our natural resources

The first level of sorting at recycling stations is done by hand.

Workers at the recycling station are sorting through tonnes of material an hour and don't have time to open bags to find out what’s inside. Your plastic bags could be filled with recyclable material like glass or plastic bottles or aluminium cans. Or they could be full of contaminants like food scraps, plastic wrap or unwanted wine glasses. Even worse, they could be full of dirty or dangerous material like dirty nappies or medical equipment.

Since it's too dangerous and time consuming to open and sort the bags, they have to be removed from the recycling stream and thrown into the rubbish. That means valuable resources will not be reclaimed. Instead they will be wasted in landfill.

Recycling system efficiency

The next issue with plastic bags is that they interfere with the automatic sorting machines.

Conveyor belts feed the recycling into rotating tunnels, onto spinning wheels and past magnets and eddy currents to separate the plastic, glass, paper, aluminium and steel cans. Plastic bags cannot be sorted from other materials by existing machinery. Instead, they get caught in the conveyor belts and jam spinning wheels and can bring the entire sorting station to a halt. The bags then need to be found and removed by hand - a time consuming and often dangerous process that reduces the overall efficiency of the recycling station or materials recovery facility (MRF).

Easy ways you can help

When you're next putting out your recycling, remember the problems that plastic bags can create and make sure you keep them out of the recycling system. Better still, if you see a family member, friend or neighbour putting plastic bags in their kerbside recycling bin or crate, tell them why they shouldn’t!

Plastic bags can be recycled, just not in your home recycling bin. Instead, you can drop them off at specially-marked recycling bins at the front of most supermarkets. For information on what can and can't be recycled in your area visit the RecyclingNearYou.com.au Website or Hotline (1300 733 712).


  • Plastic Bags Factsheet ( 688kb pdf file)
    Information about plastic bags, biodegradable bags, handy hints to reduce plastic bag usage and more.