How to tackle discarded plastic bags along Iowa roads

You’ve probably noticed now that snow is gone that what’s left behind is trash along Iowa roadways. Much of it is plastic bags.

California and Hawaii have banned plastic bags. Should Iowa follow?

It’s not the growing season yet, but a farm field along University Avenue in Waukee has a bumper crop of the bags.

Rachel Goodall sees it every day out her front door.


“Colorful plastic bags with variety of garbage mixed in too,” said Goodall. “It sticks to everything. It gets shredded and it’s hard to come off.”

When it comes to trash, plastic bags are the worst said a DOT crew cleaning along Interstate- 235 in Des Moines Wednesday.

Gerry Schnepf of Keep Iowa Beautiful said Iowa spends $14 million a year in taxpayer money cleaning up trash along roadways and other public areas. He said Iowa needs to explore options other than banning the bags like getting tougher on litterbugs.

“Our penalty here is $70, not a big amount and one of lowest in the nation,” said Schnepf.

Educating Iowans about in-store recycling and buying reusable bags would also help the problem.


Why is it important to recycle your plastic bags? One reason is they can have a second life as furniture.

Iowans can’t put plastic bags in their curbside recycling bins because they can’t be sorted mechanically and gum up the equipment. They can be taken back to most grocery stores who will in turn sell them to plastic recycling companies.

One of those companies is Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls. They can take 32,000 plastic bags, shred them, mix them with chemicals, mold them and make them into outdoor furniture like tables and benches.

The Iowa Grocery Industry Association is giving out Build With Bags grants of $2,000 each to community groups who can use the money to buy various items made from recycled plastic.

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