REDO volunteers attend events and work to educate the public about important recycling issues. We work to teach people how to use plastics responsibly, and how to recycle right. 

Derek Devine greets audience members at a concert in downtown Salt Lake City and talks with attendees about recycling.

Waste Management in West Jordan, Utah shuts down 3 to 4 times per day to clean out plastic bags from their machinery gears. 

You’ve probably heard that plastic bags aren’t great for the environment – they get eaten by sea life and they take up to 1000 years to break down – but did you know that they also aren’t great for recycling systems?

When your curbside recycling gets picked up, it’s taken to a Material Recovery Facility (or MRF for short). MRFs are what the general public probably thinks of as recycling plants, but they only handle one important piece of the recycling process – the sorting. Curbside trucks unload consumer’s recyclables onto long, dusty conveyor belts. As the conveyors move around the facility, items are sifted through to recover materials that have resale value in the post-consumer market. High value materials include glass, metal, cartons and some plastics. Unidentifiable materials, items trapped in a bag, and anything contaminated – in some cases nearly 50% of what is sent to the MRF – is sifted out and heads to the landfill.

Plastic bags fall into a category of plastics known as “film,” which includes other things like plastic wrappers, thin plastic packaging and food storage bags. During the sorting process, plastic bags get caught in the machinery, and can cause the whole facility to shut down. In fact, this happens three times a day or more in Waste Management’s MRF in West Jordan (pictured above). Workers have to spend hours freeing the shredded plastic bags from the gears, which takes time away from sorting valuable materials.

Contamination caused by plastic bags and wrappers is also a huge problem. Plastic bags are lightweight, and can become entangled around valuable materials like paper or cardboard, which contaminates the final product.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Bring your own reusable bag to the store.
  2. Request for paper rather than plastic (it does take more energy to produce paper bags, but they break down way faster and are easily recycled, so in the end they’re better for the environment than plastic). To see more details about paper vs. plastic, click here.
  3. If you do end up with a plastic bag, recycle it at your local grocery store or dispose of it in the garbage.
Don't Bag Your Recycling

Most large scale residential recycling facilities will not accept recyclables if they are in a plastic trash bag. However, please note that some companies require you to bag your recycling. Check with your local provider to be sure!

Every two or three months, Salt Lake County hauls 6-7 tons of trash from the Jordan River. Nearly half of the trash is made up of plastic bottles and soda cans – things that could have been recycled.

Common items found in the river:

  • Polystyrene (what most people know as Styrofoam)
  • Plastic Bottles
  • Building Materials
  • Soda Cans
  • Paper Cups
  • Candy Wrappers
  • Metal Spray Cans
  • Sports Balls

Salt Lake County has no choice but to take the load to the landfill because exposure to the elements leaves the items too contaminated to be recycled.

Where does this trash come from? Everywhere! Curbside bins in residential neighborhoods blow over in the wind, and trash is swept into nearby storm drains. The wind may also blow litter into streams from nearby industrial parks and hiking trails. The map featured below of the Jordan River Watershed (provided by Salt Lake County) shows stream systems that flow into the Jordan River, and then into the Great Salt Lake.

While this video is about marine debris, it is also a good example of how trash ends up in the Great Salt Lake.

All of this litter impacts wildlife that live or migrate through the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding wetlands. The Great Salt Lake supports millions of birds, including a population of bald eagles, and threatened or endangered species like the snowy plover and peregrine falcon. It’s a place where species of birds from all over the western hemisphere use as part of their migration pattern each year. Birds often mistake plastic as food, consume it and then starve. They may also become entangled in plastic bags or other soft plastics. This is devastating to bird populations, and that’s why REDO is working to draw attention to this important problem and help facilitate solutions.

Already, organizations are taking action to prevent more debris from getting into critical wildlife habitats in and around the Great Salt Lake. The trash boom that was installed on the Jordan River in March, 2018 has prevented tons of garbage from flowing downstream. That was thanks to the collaboration of groups like SLCo Watershed, SLCo Flood Control Engineering, New State Duck Club, FRIENDS of the Great Salt Lake, and the Nature Conservancy of Utah. The Hogle Zoo is also working to hold trash clean ups and habitat restoration on the Jordan River as well as other tributaries.

REDO is working to raise visibility about this issue so that more people understand the impact that littering has on their local environment. We’re also partnering with a local boy scout troop to facilitate more trash clean ups, and install signage along hiking trails. Together, we can make an impact and prevent waste from getting into our precious waterways.

Jordan River Watershed – Image provided by Salt Lake County

Recycling by County →

Glass Drop Off Locations →


TerraCycle Drop-Off

(hard to recycle packaging)

Find your TerraCycle drop-off location at the First Unitarian Church!

Drop-Off Time: Sunday Mornings, 9:00 AM – Noon

First Unitarian Church
600 South 1300 East
Salt Lake City, Utah 84102

North Entrance: Go straight to Eliot Hall. Look for the cart with small blue bins.

Accepted Dental Care Products and Packaging:

  • Toothpaste Tubes and Caps
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste Cartons
  • Toothbrush Outer Packaging
  • Floss Containers

Please Note, This Program Does Not Accept:

  • Electric Toothbrushes
  • Battery Toothbrushes
  • Or Any Accessory to these products

Accepted Foil-Lined Energy Bar Wrappers – Any Brand:

  • Foil-Lined Granola Bar Wrappers
  • Foil-Lined Meal Replacement Bar Wrappers
  • Foil-Lined Protein Bar Wrappers
  • Foil-Lined Diet Bar Wrappers
  • Clif Bar & Co. Wrappers from Clif Bars
  • Clif Kid Z-Bar
  • Clif Kid Z-Fruit
  • Luna Bars
  • Mojo
  • Builders
  • Crunch
  • Kits Organic
  • Shot Bloks
  • Shot Gels
  • Shot Drinks
  • Pouches from Clif Organic Energy Food

Accepted: Hair Care Packaging:

  • Shampoo Caps
  • Conditioner Caps
  • Hair Gel Tubes and Caps
  • Hair Spray Triggers
  • Hair Paste Caps

Accepted Skin Care Packaging:

  • Lip Balm Tubes and Caps
  • Soap dispensers and Tubes
  • Body Wash Caps
  • Lotion Dispensers and Caps

Accepted Cosmetics Packaging:

  • Lipstick Cases
  • Lip Gloss Tubes
  • Mascara Tubes
  • Eye Shadow Cases
  • Bronzer Cases
  • Foundation Packaging
  • Powder Cases
  • Eyeliner Cases
  • Eyeliner Pencils
  • Eye Shadow Tubes
  • Concealer Tubes
  • Concealer Sticks
  • Lip Liner Pencils

Accepted Miscellaneous Items:

  • Pens
  • Markers
  • Plastic Cereal Bags and Cereal Box Liners

Questions? Contact Jim French at

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !