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NYC Weighs Plastic Bag Recycling Program

November 08, 2007 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
New York City Council puts forward legislation mandating that large grocery stores recycle plastic bags, putting the city at the forefront of a growing movement to curb the harmful environmental effects of petroleum-based plastics.

30-Second Summary

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The bill, proposed by City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., would require stores larger than 5,000 square feet to recycle plastic bags and sell reusable bags to customers.

Although supporters of the legislation—including President Bush’s niece Lauren Bush and the Whole Foods grocery chain—tout this as an important development in environmental responsibility, its opponents say it could hurt small businesses.

If passed, the bill would put New York among a number of countries, states and cities that have already moved to limit the harmful environmental effects of plastic waste.

California has similar recycling legislation in place, and the Rhode Island government is collaborating with grocers to collect and recycle plastic bags as well.

Ireland reduced its consumption of bags by 90 percent after enacting a tax on them in 2001, and Bhutan, Bangladesh and the city of San Francisco have banned petroleum-based plastic bags altogether.

The adverse environmental effects of plastic bags are manifold. Not only can the standard, petroleum-based bag take nearly 100 years to decompose, but their near ubiquity has contributed to a glut of oceanic plastic waste: there is a mass of trash twice the size of Texas floating between San Francisco and Hawaii.

In addition, it takes nearly 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture the 100 billion plastic bags consumed yearly in the United States.

Headline Links: NYC’s plastic bag recycling legislation

According to The New York Times, plastic bags were first introduced to U.S. consumers in 1977, and now account for 90 percent of all grocery bags used. In order to reduce their prevalence, New York City’s bill would require that each plastic bag display the following message: “PLEASE RETURN THIS BAG TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING.”

Background: San Francisco bans plastic bags and the ‘I’m Not a Plastic Bag’ accessory

Reactions: Whole Foods versus NYC’s small supermarkets

Analysis: Are biodegradable bags viable?

Related Topics: Marks & Spencer charges for plastic bags and oceanic life suffers from plastic waste

An article in the Nov. 15 issue of the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology suggests that a combination of waste plastic in the ocean and a sediment-eating marine mammal called a lugworm may lead to increased concentrations of toxic substances in the food supply. The study indicates that as plastic waste disintegrates in seawater, its particles bind with a common contaminant—linked with cancers and respiratory problems—called phenanthrene. These particles then mix with sediment, which is in turn eaten by the lugworm. According to the study, the lugworm’s low place in the food chain makes it likely that the concentrated phenanthrene would then make its way into the food supply.

Reference Material: Plastic bag consumption figures

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