by David Goldstein

Crowdsourcing, giving the public an opportunity to provide information rather than seeking it from single sources, is an efficient way to gather data and sometimes provides unexpected results. Indeed, public agencies such as Ventura County Public Works often find out about potholes, illegal dumping, graffiti and discharges into storm drains through a crowdsourcing website, www.vcpublicworks.org/report-a-concern.

In response to my article about plastic bag recycling problems last week, so many readers provided helpful information that a follow-up article about solutions became possible. Thus, we have the following solutions:

Pat Bonnell, of Simi Valley, noted the utility of reusing plastic bags as waste basket liners and also suggested another innovative bag reuse. She noted, “Some thrift stores take them to use for purchases.” Ms. Lilith (her full legal name) of Ventura also provided the thrift store suggestion, noting, in particular, Cat’s Cradle Rescue and Thrift Store, which accepts not only good, clean plastic bags with handles, but also clean bubble wrap. 

Stan Wilson and Loretta Burton, both of Ventura, took a practical view of the issue. To deal with the shortage of plastic bag (and other plastic) recycling options, Wilson said, “The best solution is to just stop using it.” Burton noted that although plastic bags are widely distributed, consumers can still refuse a bag. Even supermarkets declining to place items in customers’ cloth bags usually let customers bag their own groceries.

Betty (who declined to provide her last name) of Thousand Oaks suggested I check with local food distribution programs for plastic bag reuse opportunities. Kay Wilson-Bolton, Volunteer Director for Spirit of Santa Paula, said food pantries accepted clean, strong plastic bags prior to COVID-19 restrictions, and she “hates buying plastic bags,” but using new bags “minimizes exposure during the pandemic.” Food distribution programs will likely again provide a reuse opportunity for plastic bags after the pandemic.

One reader, who did not want to be named because he was not sure whether his solution is legal, regularly reuses plastic bags by stuffing the bags into a bag distribution box attached to a post at a nearby dog park. Apparently, especially during COVID-19 changes in work patterns, the container is often empty. 

I checked about the viability of this solution with public officials in charge of these programs. Ewelina Mutkowska, Ventura County’s Stormwater Program manager, said she thought such reuse, provided it is done with suitable bags which are properly disposed, would be a good way to solve a problem when bag boxes are empty. Brandon Kaysen, Environmental Services supervisor with the city of Ventura, said he also appreciated “innovative pursuit of reuse” but added, “The better solution is, call your city and report that a site is out of poo bags.” Bags purchased for distribution are the right size and shape for the task at hand, while bags from an eager, but unauthorized, volunteer might not be suitable or might overflow the container.

Marti Smith, of Newbury Park, provided the website plasticfilmrecycling.org to find plastic bag recycling options. Like earth911.com, some of the listings are outdated, so call before you bring bags to a store.

I also spoke to representatives from the Trex Corporation, which is based in Nevada but recycles most of the plastic bags collected from Ventura County after bags are consolidated at supermarket distribution centers. These recyclers, who make our old bags into decking, appreciated the instruction to ensure recycled bags are free of receipts and twist ties, but also asked for a clarification left out of the article last week. Food storage bags, such as zip lock bags, are acceptable only if the bags do not have a lining. Clear sandwich bags, for example, are okay, but bags coated with colored plastic, usually containing graphics identifying the enclosed product, are not acceptable.

Thanks also to John Snyder of Newbury Park, Deanne Escareno of Ventura and Terry Milligan of Camarillo for reporting grocery stores still accepting plastic bags.

 

David Goldstein, Environmental Analyst with Ventura County Public Works, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.