It's time to get serious about plastic bags. This article will tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about plastic bags. **Just a note: when we refer to plastic bags, this also includes plastic wraps, such as bread bags, newspaper bags, produce bags, ziplock bags, trash bags, air-pillows (the kind used for shipping), dry cleaning bags, shrink wrap, cereal bags, wrapping around diapers, wrappers for toilet paper/paper towels, and bottled water wrapping. But to make things easier to read here, we will put all of this nasty plastic under the term 'plastic bags'.
There are very few good things to say about plastic bags. One good thing: almost every type of plastic bag is recyclable. That being said, almost every single curbside recycling program in the country, including the MCC barrels from City of Mesa, do NOT allow plastic bags.
They jam up the machinery at the recycling facility. MCC Recycle will be arranging a tour of a recycling facility and landfill, hopefully for February, and if you take the tour you will see why. But for now, a simple explanation is this: the automated equipment at the recycling facility has the ability to filter things in different ways: they have fans that blow paper to one area, and they have other specialized conveyor belts that allow plastics to be sorted from cans. However, plastic bags are extremely lightweight, and as you have seen from littered public areas, they blow around like crazy. At the recycling facility, the bags will blow into the paper areas during the sorting by fans, and then they jam the paper machines. It's not unusual that the entire recycling line has to be shut down several times a day to remove plastic bags that jam equipment. They also have to hire people to stand at the conveyor and try to remove plastic bags as they enter the processing area. All bags filtered out are sent to landfill (NOT recycled). Obviously, these types of things slow the process when a facility is processing several tons of recycled materials per day, and ultimately this ends up raising the cost of recycling. There is one exception: shredded paper can go into the containers if it is inside a CLEAR plastic bag. This allows the manual sorters at the facility to see that it is paper, remove it from the production area, and then dump it into the paper recycling.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? You have 2 options:
Option 1: Never, ever, EVER put plastic bags in curbside recycling containers. Since all of your bags are recyclable, just save them up and take them to the grocery store next time you go. Almost every grocery store in town has a bin at the front where you can put plastic bags and plastic wrap. Also, you can reuse them for other things. Take your lunch to work in one until it tears (then recycle it at the store!). Line a trash can. Clean up dog poop. Use it as a shower cap. Reuse it the next time you go to the store (and they'll usually deduct a few cents per bag from your total bill if you do that). Heck, you can even 'knit' them in to a purse or a rug (check out this link for craft ideas: http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/138/1/Recycled-plastic-bag-crafts.html).
Option 2: Stop using them! Do you really need a bag to carry a soda, chips, and gum out of the store? Buy reusable bags and always have one with you. If you buy them at grocery stores, they are usually around $1 each. Ladies, they even have some that fold or zip up small to fit in your purse. Every time you go the store, USE THEM. If you don't have one with you and you are just picking up one or two things, just refuse the bag. MCC students: You use a backpack or your arms to carry books all semester; you don't need a plastic bag to carry your books from the bookstore to the car after you buy them!! Please tell the bookstore "NO BAG NEEDED!!"
WHAT HAPPENS TO MY RECYCLED PLASTIC BAGS?
Here's the good news. Plastic bags that are recycled (the correct way, of course) are made into products such as materials used to build decking, fencing, and even playground equipment. (visit the website for this local company for details: http://www.pjsfuncrafters.com/)
And finally, a few dramatic statistics* to scare the plastic right out of your life:
- About 89 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are used each year in the U.S.
- In the United States alone, an estimated 12 million barrels of oil is used annually to make plastic bags that Americans consume. (How much do you think that 'costs' us?)
- According to the EPA, only about 12 percent of plastic bags and wraps were recycled in 2007.
- A five-year-long study by the Ocean Conservancy found that small plastic bags made up about 9 percent of the debris found along various U.S. coasts.
- The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
- Approximately 500 nautical miles off the California coast sits a growing "plastic island," a gargantuan patch of floating plastic trash held together by currents stretching across the northern Pacific almost as far as Japan. This "plastic island" is made up of about 7 billion pounds of plastic garbage, and measures about twice the size of Texas.
- Annual cost to US retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion. Since you don't pay for the bag when you check-out at the store, this cost is passed on to consumers via the cost of products they buy.
So, the moral of this story: Stop using plastic bags!!! Even if you buy reusable bags for shopping, you will obviously sometimes still get plastic bags/wrap via other means. Please make sure to recycle it all at the front of most retail stores and NOT in the curbside barrels. And, please share this info with friends.
Thanks for listening!