PSI offers different takes on plastic bags
By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling
A recent webinar hosted by the Product Stewardship Institute offered information for multiple options to manage plastic bags and film.
Included was a presentation by Walter Willis of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, Illinois, which successfully piloted a producer responsibility system for plastic bags and film in the county. The system eventually became the model for Illinois Senate Bill 102 in 2011 and later SB 3442 in 2012, which passed the legislature but was ultimately vetoed by the governor over concerns it would pre-empt more aggressive local action. That struggle between state and local control was cited specifically as a challenge that would need to be addressed if a statewide EPR program for plastic bags and film was to be revisited.
Offering different takes were Dick Lilly of Seattle Public Utilities and Jeffrey Seltzer of the Washington D.C. Department of the Environment, who briefed participants on bag bans and bag taxes, respectively. Seattle's bag ban specifically prevents retail stores from distributing single-use plastic bags to customers, and requires a five-cent fee for paper bags. The result has been the elimination of nearly all single-use plastic bags from Seattle stores. Fees of five-cents per single-use bag have produced similar results in Washington D.C. While bags are not banned in the District, the fees have reduced orders for bags by affected businesses by an estimated 50-70 percent. Additionally, revenue from the fees is being put toward litter prevention and cleanup, ecological restoration and other community improvements.
For an industry perspective, Brian Houghton of the Massachusetts Food Association presented information on a collaboration between the MFA and the state Department of Environmental Protection. The result was a coordinated, voluntary effort among grocers to reduce the number of plastic and paper bags, encourage recycling and provide incentives for the use of reusable bags. The result was a 25-percent reduction in the annual use of paper and plastic bags in 2010 (versus 2007) and a 33-percent reduction in the use of paper and plastic bags in 2011 – two years ahead of the predetermined goal.
"The bags themselves are not the problem, but rather what consumers do with them after they are finished using them for carrying their grocery items home," concluded Houghton. "Plastic bags are useful for the transportation of frozen products, raw meat, poultry and fish and other items that may tend to leak or create moisture. Although plastic bags can be harmful to the environment, the reason they become a problem is because of the improper disposal of them."