You’re probably thinking: I hope that clueless girl hasn’t written another blog post about plastic shopping bags.
Note from that clueless girl: This is the second to last one. Promise.
Here’s the thing. Going by the strategy mentioned in A Big House Full of Bad Habits, where I fooled myself into moving the contents of my entire house one corner of one room at a time, when it comes to making my life greener, I’m still trying to reduce what goes into my trash can every week. But I just learned a secret that’s going to make that a lot easier.
Before I go on about that, though, there’s something you should know about me: I live in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. Our neighbors are red squirrels and chipmunks. That means that while most people drag their trash to the curb on garbage day, we throw ours in the back of the car and haul it to the County Dump. So, last week, when my husband and I were there sorting our cans, plastic bottles, and cardboard into these big rusty containers for recyclables, I noticed two big boxy-looking bins stuffed with plastic shopping bags.
(This is me with a light bulb emoji
over my head and an aha-expression on my face.)
I had a bunch of plastic bags left at home from before I started bringing my own to stores. Now I knew what to do with them. Then it occurred to me that even though I kind of sort of knew that plastic bags could be recycled, I had no idea how it worked.
This prompted me to to give my County’s Waste Management a call and embarrass myself by trying to sound like a hard-nosed investigative reporter. I’m guessing Pat Pittsley, Recycling Coordinator, must have been rolling her eyes like crazy on the other end of the phone. But to her credit, she remained professional and was very informative.
And now for the secret she let me in on, which I am in turn sharing with all of you. ( Another thing you should know about me: I’m not good at keeping secrets. Really. If you don’t want EVERYONE to know, don’t tell ME.) It turns out that in addition to plastic bags; all the plastic wrapping around products like toilet paper, paper towels, and such is also recyclable. So are ziplock bags, as long as they’ve been cleaned out and dried. (Although, I told my husband we’d stop buying them, anyway. It’s easy enough to use tupperware.) Really, most of the thin types of shopping bags they hand out at grocery stores, as well any clear plastic packaging (which the DEC calls plastic film,) can be melted down and reused.
Mrs. Pittsley also shared that the staff at the Dump has been clearing those big boxy bins, bundling the contents, and storing them for the past eight years. Eventually, some company will put in a bid for them, and if it’s accepted, they’ll cart them away and melt them down into pellets. Then that material will be made into new plastic shopping bags, turned into plastic lumber by companies like Trex that make decking, or used as part of medical or technological innovations. Using recycled material instead of virgin material to make these things uses a lot less oil and is better for the environment. But unfortunately, less than 1% of single-use bags are actually turned in for recycling each year. Maybe that’s because THE SECRET hadn’t yet gotten out.
Enter: That Clueless Girl.
In NY State, since 2015 stores, like Price Chopper, have been responsible for arranging for plastic film and shopping bags to be collected, stored, and recycled. In fact, any store that provide customers with free bags is required to have some kind of container in a visible area where people can return them and other plastic film for recycling. They’re even required to label their own bags so that customers know they’re recyclable. The bags and such should be cleaned out of things like receipts or food particles, before being put into the bins. (For more information about what types of plastic film can be recycled and to find a drop off location near you, please got to: http://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/s00/index.html )
For me, my preference is to say ‘no,’ to the single-use bags entirely and continue to bring my own. While recycling the bags reduces the amount of trash in landfills and is easier on the environment than making them from scratch, the recycling process and transporting the materials still produces carbon emissions that the planet could do without. But what I now know about all the different types of packaging that can be recycled has taken a load off my mind, as well as from the inside of my trash can.
Next week: I’ll sum up my bit on plastic shopping bags. See ya then!