Actually, plastic bags are incompatible with recycling; bags cover recyclables and wrap around automated sorting lines.
by David Goldstein
I will avoid saying which fast food place double-plastic-bagged the sandwich I ordered for carry out, tried to give me a separate plastic bag for napkins and plastic utensils, and gave me another plastic bag which enclosed my change. But I will say they sell submarine sandwiches.
Really, there is no need to pick on one company for boosting the use of plastic bags during the COVID pandemic. With good intentions, everyone from supermarket clerks to volunteers at free food distribution pantries is trying to avoid physical contact to stay healthy and slow the spread of the virus.
Nevertheless, we do have a problem, partly because this increase in plastic bag distribution is coming at a time when plastic bag recycling options are disappearing. The level of public concern about this issue may be measured by noting the five emails I received last week regarding plastic bags.
Carol Terpstra, of Ventura, who described herself as “an old-time, Baby Boomer recycler . . . dedicated to the cause since long before it became trendy or convenient” emailed me, “Since the pandemic hit, I haven’t been able to find a grocery store or facility that will take my old plastic bags for recycling . . . If there is a way to keep them out of a landfill . . . please let me know.”
Similarly, Art Goulet, former director of the Ventura County Public Works Agency and a Camarillo resident, emailed me about his “frustrating” search for bag recycling options. Vons market, he reported, “removed the small bin they had outside the market because people were using it for trash.”
A supermarket manager gave Bob Dawson, of Camarillo, the same contamination explanation for removal of bag recycling boxes but also provided a recycling tip. Some store employees still accept bags from customers, combining the plastic with shrink wrap, which is recycled in the back of the store. However, reported Mr. Dawson in an email to me, “The one and only time I tried that, the Vons employee looked at me as if I were from another planet.” Mr. Dawson then searched, unsuccessfully, for bag recycling at other stores. One store manager misinformed Mr. Dawson, telling him to put plastic bags in his curbside recycling cart. Actually, plastic bags are incompatible with recycling; bags cover recyclables and wrap around automated sorting lines.
Lanny Kaufer, a patriarch of the Ojai environmental community, and Joanna Gentry, of Santa Paula, also emailed me this week regarding bags. In the absence of bag recycling options, both had been getting rid of bags by bagging paper in curbside recycling carts. I replied, telling them bagging paper is a mistake which makes recycling more difficult at the sorting center. I also suggested they use bags for waste basket liners, throwing away only bags weighted with garbage to avoid bag “blow-off” litter.
The disappearance of plastic bag recycling options is because a provision in the 2006 legislation mandating recycling at locations distributing plastic bags allowed the requirement to expire last year. According to Lance Klug, public information officer with the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery — known as CalRecycle — a bill introduced to reestablish “at-store recycling,” AB 3141, was introduced last year but “did not advance,” and “the deadline for bill introduction in 2021 is Feb. 19.”
I called several stores listed at Earth911.com as recycling plastic bags, and information about Vons and Walmart is no longer accurate, but the Target, Kohl’s, and Lowe’s stores I called still do have plastic bag drop-off containers.
What can go in these containers? PlasticFilmRecycling.org, sponsored by the American Chemistry Council, lists the following types of plastic bags as being acceptable in drop-off programs: produce bags; plastic shipping envelopes; bread bags; dry cleaning bags; case wrap (such as the plastic wrapping a case of water bottles); air pillows (used in shipping); newspaper bags; product overwrap (such as the plastic wrap around bundles of toilet paper); and bubble wrap.
Ensure no receipts, labels or metal, such as twist ties or paper clips, are in your bags.
David Goldstein is an environmental analyst with Ventura County Public Works and can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.