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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Environmental and Financial Analysis: Single-Use Plastic versus Reusable Recycling Bags

Plastic bag that says thank you

Group Members: Karla Bonilla Cordero, Kat Cotti, Larissa Neilson, Morganne Sigismonti

Faculty Advisors: Matthew Potoski

Client: WSP Sustainability, Energy & Climate Change Division



Final Report

Executive Summary

Final Presentation


A successful recycling program is an important factor of many companies’ environmental strategy to both lessen the negative environmental impacts of improperly disposed recyclable waste and achieve corporate sustainability goals. WSP is considering a reusable recycling bag (RRB) as a replacement for single-use plastic garbage bags (SUPGBs) used to line recycling receptacles, with the goal of directly reducing SUPGB consumption. SUPGBs contaminate downstream recycling and jam recycling equipment, cause work stoppages, pose safety hazards for recycling facility workers, and reduce the value of recycled goods. SUPGBs disposed of in the landfill contribute to intensive landfill accumulation and ecosystem degradation. Additionally, SUPGBs add to companies’ landfilled waste stream, inhibiting zero-waste goals, and can result in contamination charges. Our project analyzed the environmental and financial tradeoffs between SUPGBs and RRBs used to line recycling receptacles in order to determine which option is the most environmentally and financially viable for WSP’s clients. We conducted a comparative Life-Cycle Assessment to evaluate the environmental impact of RRBs and SUPGBs and created a financial model to analyze and compare the costs of implementing each bag type. We also organized a field test piloting the RRB on UCSB’s campus to assess the bag’s durability, the janitorial staff’s experience, and the on-site logistics needed to effectively implement RRBs. Finally, we developed a web-accessible, user-friendly impact calculator to help businesses evaluate the tradeoffs of each bag to facilitate preliminary decision making.


Stacy Katz, Project Director, WSP 

Mike Callahan, SVP Account Management, Zorch International 

Sarah Stark, Environmental Compliance & Outreach Coordinator, Marborg Industries

Bren School: Sage Davis, Building Manager; Eric Masanet, Professor; Matthew Potoski, Professor; Yang Qiu, PhD Student

UCSB: Catalina Lopez, Custodian; Matilde Martinez, Custodian; Matthew O’Carroll, Refuse, Recycling & Water Efficiency Manager; Fabian Salas, Custodial Supervisor; Byron Sandoval, Sr. Superintendent Custodial Services

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