By Jeana McNeil
Even though plastic bags are marked with the recycling symbol, they are not accepted for curbside pick-up. The thin material clogs machinery at the recycling facilities that sorts our waste. This slows down processing and drives up the cost of recycling. Very few cities nationally accept plastic bags in curbside recycling.
Plastic bags and other thin plastics make up a growing portion of consumer waste. The average American uses an estimated 326 plastic bags each year. Nationally, we use a total of 1 billion plastic bags each year; most bags are used only once and for about 12 minutes on average. Only about 5% of plastic bags used in the United States are properly recycled; this means that 950 million plastic bags end up as litter, go to a landfill or incinerator, or pose a danger to wildlife. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade.
So what are the options for Melrosians to responsibly dispose of plastic bags and other thin plastic film? There are drop-off bins at large retailers and grocery stores (e.g., Shaws, Whole Foods, Market Basket, Stop & Shop, Lowes, and Target) that accept plastic bags and plastic film for recycling. In addition, Melrose DPW holds a plastic bag recycling drop off twice every year at the City Yard—and it will be accepting plastic bags on “odds and ends” day on July 16. You can bring the following thin plastic materials for recycling to stores and the DPW events: Plastic grocery bags, newspaper bags, plastic wrap from paper products and bulk items like soda or water cases, plastic bags from bread and produce, and dry cleaning bags. This event is only held once a year, because it’s funded by a sponsor not DPW.
While we work on more options for convenient recycling of plastic bags, it is also critical to use fewer plastic bags:
- Say “no thanks” when offered a plastic bag you don’t need. A lot of us are on auto-pilot and accept a bag without pausing to ask ourselves if we really need it. Remember, 1 billion bags a year, used only 12 minutes!
- Reusable bags are widely available. Stores like Whole Foods and Target reward customers with a small refund for using their own bags. The Green Street Market in Melrose has a rewards card program; when your card has been completed and stamped, you will receive 20% off your purchase! Think about ways to make reusable bags a habit for you. Maybe keep some by the door or in your car or carry one that collapses into a small size that fits easily into a handbag or work bag.
- Across the country, individual municipalities and states are implementing voluntary and mandatory policies to reduce the usage of plastic bags. In Massachusetts, 25 cities and towns including Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, Somerville, and Marblehead have enacted some form of plastic bag bans and the state legislature is considering a law that would limit the use of plastic bags statewide. Nationally, California and 120+ communities have adopted bans on plastic bags.
Stop by our table at the Melrose Farmer’s Market on July 21st, for more information.
Help Melrose increase our recyclable consumption and decrease our household waste. Our website: melrecyclingcommittee.wordpress.com