Trying for a Win-Win Solution instead of an Outright Ban on Plastic Bags, and the Plastic Bag Industry has Gotten the Message

RecyleCleanI went to Tuesday night’s meeting held by the Newburyport City Council on the Plastic Bag ban, and it was without doubt the most frustrating and depressing meeting that I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot of meetings), and my read was that I wasn’t exactly alone in feeling that way.

The meeting seemed to me to be more about a homily to a plastic bag ban, than a how can we problem solve this together as a community.  When I raised my hand, I said it felt a lot like being at a Waterfront meeting and being for some sort of buildings down there (you gotta live in Newburyport, to understand that one). (And this proposed ban is in 2 City Council committees, there will never be public hearings.)

There was a young lady at that meeting, and from what I could make out, she was not from Newburyport, who said that plastic bag lobbyists lived among our wards and were giving bribes to city councilors (city councilors, who were there, I may not have gotten that completely right, but that is basically what she said). I resent someone calling our local city government corrupt.

I chased down the plastic bag people who appear to recycle our plastic bags at Market Basket, Hilex Poly, to ask them to help us with a recycling program, I asked if it would be possible to have receptacles at the grocery stores that are fun and easy to notice.  I ended up talking to the lobbyist, who does live in Newburyport, many people know him, he was the campaign manager to John Kerry in the senate race against Governor Weld in the 1996 senate race and was then Senator Kerry’s chief of staff (John Kerry is now the Untied States Secretary of State). One of the city councilors at the meeting remarked that he was in fact helpful (I don’t remember the exact words).  Mr. Greenly agreed, and said he would get back to me this week.  We’ll see.

canada-map

Canada

The plastic bag industry has definitely got the memo that they better get going into putting a lot of effort into recycling plastic thin film bags.  And I now know more than I ever imagined about recycling plastic bags.

This is appears to be the bottom line. There is a billion dollar recycling plastic thin filmed industry.  There is a huge market for clean, dry thin filmed plastic, including clean, dry plastic bags. There isn’t a strong market for soiled plastic, but clean, dry plastic–it’s unbelievable the market for this stuff.  If you go to the back of our grocery stores, there will be bails of clean thin filmed plastic (including the recycled plastic bags) along with bails of clean cardboard.  Some of it is used here in the US (Hilex Poly has just built a $25 million dollar plastic bag recycling plant in Indiana). But the big bulk of it appears to be exported to China and Canada for big bucks, to be reused for all sorts of things, including decking by Trex.

Wegmans

Wegmans recycling program

And what I said at the meeting, is that every time I bring up the subject of recycling plastic bags as part of a 2 pronged strategy (used at a Mid-Atlantic grocery store called Wegmans, with the help of the plastic bag industry) of both recycling and using reusable bags, I get shouted down by environmentalists that recycling plastic bags is out of the question.

The plastic bags create absolute havoc with the machinery when they are put in the recycling bins here in Newburyport.  They gotta go back to the grocery stores, Market Basket and Shaw’s (or places like Lowe’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club up in Seabrook). People don’t know to bring them back. The plastic bag industry was more than willing to work with Mid-Atlantic grocery store Wegmans.  I feel as if I am shouting against the wind to try and get Newburyport to work with the “bad guys,” the plastic industry, to help us come up with a win-win solution here in Newburyport, because people for all sorts of reasons like their plastic bags, they just haven’t gotten the memo, (well, some have), what to do with them–i.e. return to sender, bring them back.

The article about Wegmans effort concerning plastic bags can be read here, including the video which can also be seen here.

Editor’s Note: From Wegmans Food Market

ROCHESTER, NY - It’s not every day that one good turn earns double credit! But during April, customers who bring their clean, dry plastic bags to a Wegmans Food Market for recycling can feel good twice over: First, for recycling their bags, and second, for helping to increase the contribution Wegmans is making to an organization that’s a friend of the earth, The Nature Conservancy.

Last year in April, Wegmans customers recycled 177,000 pounds of plastic bags – the equivalent of about 11 million new bags. The company wanted to improve on last year’s record and came up with a plan to contribute at least $10,000 to The Nature Conservancy, the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect lands and water for nature and people. To inspire customers to scour closets, pantries and other storage areas for plastic bags to recycle, Wegmans pledged to contribute 50 cents to the Conservancy for every additional pound above last year’s total of 177,000 (with a minimum contribution of $10,000).

“Sustainability is a company-wide priority at Wegmans,” says Sustainability Coordinator Jason Wadsworth, “and the duty to protect air, land and water for people today and tomorrow belongs to all of us. We’re very proud of the steps we and our customers have already taken to reduce, reuse and recycle, but to keep moving in the right direction, we need to keep coming up with more and better ways to conserve these precious resources. It made sense to us to inspire customers to do their best too by working together on this recycling initiative.”

During April, signs near the recycling bins in the stores’ vestibules will remind customers to bring in their plastic bags for recycling, and Wegmans will track the total weight as the month goes by. In addition, on Saturday April 26 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the first 300 customers at every store who bring in a bunch of clean dry plastic bags will receive a coupon for a Wegmans reusable bag.

“The reusable bags come in lots of designs and colors, and they’re actually the best option from an environmental standpoint,” Wadsworth says.

Since some customers prefer plastic bags, however, Wegmans has also looked for ways to increase the amount of plastic that is recycled. In January, Wegmans introduced new plastic bags with the slogan “Return to Sender.” The bags are made with 40% recycled plastic. “It helps people to know we put their plastic shopping bags to good use after they bring them back to the store. Our supplier uses those recycled bags as raw material for brand new bags. Last year, together with our customers, Wegmans recycled a total of 3.6 million pounds of plastic bags and wrapping.”

Today, every Wegmans store now uses on average 4,000 fewer plastic carry-out bags per day compared with 2007, the year Wegmans introduced reusable bags and began reformulating its carry-out plastic bags. That’s 120 million fewer bags each year.

To read please see link here.