Won’t Recycling Handle the Plastic Bag Problem?

by Mary Makofske

Economics does not encourage recycling of plastic bags. It costs $4,000 to recycle a ton of plastic bags, but the recycled material can be sold for only about $32, according to Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (Christian Science Monitor). Not many companies or municipalities want to take that kind of loss. Current recycling programs have been able to recycle only 1 to 3% of plastic bags. Even environmentally conscious San Francisco managed to recycle only 1%.

And finding a place to recycle the bags isn’t easy. Orange County’s Solid Waste Management Station in New Hampton collects the bags, but does not recycle them. Some supermarkets (including the Warwick ShopRite) do have recycling bins for clean plastic bags.

However, it is not energy efficient to use a non-renewable resource, process it into bags, use the bags once, and then spend more energy transporting and recycling them.

If new processes create a better market for recycled plastic bags, recycling might be more feasible. But no matter how many plastic bags are recycled, plastic products eventually end up as toxic particles that do not biodegrade. Choosing less toxic bags and using them over and over remains the most sustainable solution. Already the Warwick ShopRite has sold more reusable bags than any other store in its region and gives 5 cents off for each non-plastic bag we reuse. Now we just have to remember to bring those reusable bags into the store!


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