The Village of Oak Park | 123 Madison St.  Oak Park, IL 60302 |

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Plastic bags drive up costs, drive down value of curbside recycling

June 21, 2018 - Oak Park ranks among the most conscientious municipalities in the region when it comes to diverting materials away from landfills and into recycling.

But many Oak Parkers also are guilty of a common practice that is driving up costs and driving down the value of the community’s curbside recycling program — putting single-use plastic bags into their blue carts.

It’s not that single-use plastic bags can’t be recycled into new materials. They just require a different collection system and processing equipment that few curbside recycling programs — including Oak Park’s — can provide.

Clean plastic bags should be returned to grocery stores and big-box retailers that collect them for proper recycling.

Using plastic bags to collect and carry your recyclables to the bin is okay, too, so long as you empty them into the recycling bin and then put the bag with those going to retailers, or toss the bag into the regular trash.

So what happens to those plastic bags so many of us toss into the recycling bin when they make it to the plant that processes Oak Park’s residential recycling?

Most likely, they will end up wrapped around equipment, bringing the processing line to a halt and requiring workers to remove the bags by hand in a harrowing experience that sometimes occurs multiple times a day.

The bags that don’t jam up the equipment are likely to be caught within the neatly bound bundles of cardboard, bringing down their value for reuse.

Officials are quick to accept that proper recycling can be a challenge, given the vast range of materials that comprise modern product packaging. But just keeping those single-use plastic bags out the blue carts is a major step in the right direction, they say.

For more information on refuse and recycling collection in Oak Park, visit