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Can I Recycle Plastic Bags in the Blue Bin?

Clarification from City Trash

Even with the adoption of our single-use plastic bag ordinance, some local residents receive and use plastic bags. They have been asking whether they are recyclable in the blue bin. To that end, City Trash & Recycling, along with the County, City of Goleta, and MarBorg, have unified our responses.

First off, thank you for recycling. And please know that we accept and truly recycle all we can.

What to do with film plastic bags:

  1. Don’t take them at all and use your reusable bags.
  2. Return them to your grocery store and place in the bag recycling receptacle. (List of locations below)
  3. As a last resort, reuse them as small trash bags or bag them inside each other and place in your trash bin.

Here’s why:

In summary - the market for plastic bags is unpredictable, dirty bags are even harder to sell, and loose bags gum up machinery.

A more detailed explanation - In order to be recyclable, a material must be able to be processed and then ultimately be delivered to a market that can reuse the material in its current form or re-manufacture it into another usable form. Many materials that have historically been included in community curbside collection programs have well developed, stable markets. Others do not. Plastic bags pose two different challenges to being recycled:

First, they pose challenges to processors because they tend to wrap around the mechanical equipment in a processing facility which results in reduced efficiency in sorting materials as well as additional down time to maintain equipment.

Second, the value of plastic bags depends on the cost of oil (yes, plastic bags are a petroleum-derived product). As the price for oil increases, the value of plastic bags increases and vice versa. Unfortunately, this is constantly fluctuating. Plastic bags are a marginal commodity at best. Thus, we cannot always recycle them. However, if bags are kept isolated and clean (e.g. no tomato sauce or coffee ruining them) they are more likely to find a market buyer. This is why #2 above makes sense – the grocery stores can bundle clean bags with only other bags, and are more likely to be able to sell them for recycling.

Your public institutions and our local hauler cannot change our educational messaging on a weekly basis to keep pace with market fluctuations. We want to be consistent. And we intend to stay consistent with the message above: plastic bags should be bundled and taken back to the store, or truly, not taken at all.

But what about drop-off receptacles?

Since film plastics dropped off at a receptacle are much cleaner than those sorted from our blue bin so there are opportunities for them to be recycled and used by smaller domestic businesses.

Drop-Off Information:


Community Environmental Council

26 W. Anapamu St. 2nd Floor

M-F 9am-5pm


Santa Barbara Channel Keeper

714 Bond Avenue

M-F 9am-5pm

Ablitt's Dry Cleaning

14 W. Gutierrez St.

Regular Business Hours


Call us any time at (805) 564-5631

Last Updated: Dec 6, 2016
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