Plastic bag recycling

Welcome to our plastic bag storage area.  We used to religiously take our reusable shopping bags to the grocery store.  Then we got cats (the curious felines pictured here) and needed a few plastic bags for kitty littler clean up.  Since then we’ve gotten a little slack in taking our own bags and wind up with an overflowing plastic bag cupboard. It’s amazing how they multiply.

In 2009, New York State passed a plastic bag recycling law (which superceded the NYC law passed just months before).   The plastic bag recycling law should not be confused with plastic bag bans in areas of California, Washington state and Oregon.

The NYS plastic bag recycling law basically requires large retailers to take back plastic bags through collection points in visible, accessible areas in their stores.  These retailers must have these bags taken away by a vendor that will recycle them, and must report quantities recycled.  Additionally, large retailers can still provide plastic bags to their customers but must provide reusable bags for sale.

Is this solving the prevalent plastic bag problem?  It’s hard to say.   I couldn’t readily find any stats on how much material has been recovered for recycling as a result of this law.   Also, I’m a little skeptical on whether or not bags are actually being recycled.  I work with a lot of commercial businesses and private waste carters in NYC, and it is very easy for things like this to go by the wayside.  On the other hand, I know that private carters do recover a lot of plastic liners used to bag recyclables and can (and do) easily bale plastic bags with this stream.   Since it is a state-wide law, NYS is responsible for enforcement and it isn’t clear on how or how often compliance is checked.

As a consumer, this plastic bag recycling option is great.  You can take back more than just plastic bags (which I didn’t know until I just looked it up the other day).  Plastic film (dry cleaning bags) and other plastic bags and wrapping for things such as paper towels, bread, produce, and frozen vegetables – even ziplock bags.

For small purchases we always refuse bags, but we can definitely do more to remember our reusable bags for trips to the grocery store.  Plastic bag recycling is a great option for our accumulated excess, plus it’s a great way to get some plastic food packaging out of our waste stream.


About Amy Marpman

Director of Recycling Services at Great Forest, Inc. in NYC. Continually finding the balance of idealism with the practical realities that make or break recycling programs.
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4 Responses to Plastic bag recycling

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