Channel 2 Action News investigates whether plastic bags are being recycled properly

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News teamed up with ABC News and affiliate stations across the country to put tracking devices into plastic bags and see whether they go to recycling facilities – or landfills.

Channel 2 producers tightly secured the trackers by super-gluing them into bundles of multiple bags. Then, dropped them off at various local stores with recycling programs.

Producers tracked the air tags for months online. Not all of them ended up at recycling centers.

We met recycler Delores Wiggins at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials in Southeast Atlanta. She told us she was disappointed by the results.

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“Well, that’s bad. That’s really upsetting,” Wiggins said.

CHARM founder Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe told Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi they collect 30,000 plastic bags a week.

She believes big box companies using recycling bins are trying to do the right thing.

“Unfortunately, a lot of wish-cycling happens. I think that’s the best of intentions”, she added. Ratcliffe said film plastic bags are difficult to recycle because not many places actually do it.

Nexus Circular in Southwest Atlanta is one of only a handful of companies in the United States recycling plastic bags.

The founder, Jeffery Gold, told Choi mechanical recyclers can’t effectively process film plastic. He founded the facility that turns bags into oil.

After sorting and shredding plastic, a reactor melts it. The oil is then stored in tankers and sold. Gold said few companies do his type of work because of set-up costs.


Of the six trackers Channel 2 Action News dropped off, three ended up in a landfill or transfer station.

The tracker from Walmart in Clayton County went to the Grady Road landfill in Cedartown. The tracker from a Target in Gwinnett County went to a landfill in Homer.

The tracker from a Target in Cherokee County pinged at a Woodstock transfer station, before ending up at a landfill in Ball Ground.

In response to our results, a Target spokesperson sent a statement saying in part, “Last year, we recycled nearly 24 million pounds of plastic bags and plastic film materials from our in-store recycling bins, and we are committed to looking at our processes to improve our efforts.”

Walmart also responded with a statement saying the company “has helped remove over two billion single-use bags from circulation and are working to continue shifting to more sustainable choices.”

Channel 2 Action News also dropped trackers off at metro Atlanta Publix stores. All three of them pinged at recycling centers.

ABC News worked with Channel 2 Action News and eight other stations across 10 states. The overall results mimicked our own. Twenty-three out of 46 trackers last pinged at landfills or trash incinerators.