Archive for January, 2009

Stores must recycle plastic bags [New York State]

Under a new state law, certain retail and grocery stores are required to set up plastic bag recycling programs for customers. The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, applies to stores with 10,000 square feet or more of retail space, and chains that operate five or more stores with greater than 5,000 square feet of retail space. These stores must make collection bins for plastic bag recycling available to customers. The goal of the new law is to get customers to recycle and reuse plastic bags, and reduce waste and litter. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, each year Americans throw away more than 100 billion plastic bags, and less than 1 percent are recycled. The agency notes that recycling plastic bags will protect wildlife, because plastic bags can be ingested or swallowed by animals. “Even during difficult times we must be protective stewards of our environment, and continue to find ways to keep our daily routines from negatively impacting the long-term health of the planet,” Gov. David Paterson said in a statement. “By making changes in our daily lives and business practices, we can conserve natural resources, save energy and reduce our ecological footprint.” Plastic bags are made of polyethylene, a petroleum product. The plastic bag recycling law was first proposed two years ago, and most major chains established recycling bins soon after, according to Laura Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “This shouldn’t be too new to people in the Capital Region,” she said. “When I go to my local Price Chopper, the bin is always full. Hopefully people will take advantage of the opportunity to recycle plastic bags.” Haight said it’s unclear how much of an impact the new law will have, but also noted that none of the area’s curbside recycling programs currently accept plastic bags. Under the law, stores must make reusable bags available for purchase, and allow customers to use reusable bags in lieu of plastic or paper bags. Reusable bags are made of cloth or other machine-washable fabrics. Stores will recycle plastic retail bags with string ties and rigid plastic handles removed, newspaper bags, dry-cleaning bags, produce bags, bread bags, cereal bags, frozen food bags, plastic wrap from paper products, plastic stretch/shrink wrap and plastic zipper-type bags with the plastic closing mechanism removed. They will not recycle bags with strings, rigid plastic handles, closing mechanisms or food residue, soil or mulch bags, bubble wrap, plastic food containers or plastic bottles. Stores are also required to stock plastic bags that say “please return to a participating store for recycling” or “please reuse or recycle at a participating store.” They will be allowed to use their existing stock for up to one year. Stores that recycle plastic bags will not be reusing them. Instead, they will be sent to a recycling facility to be manufactured into new products, such as composite lumber, trash can liners or new plastic bags.

Trash Can Quiz

Here’s an activity you can do with a classroom, or with your own kids, based on a project from Environmental Defense. The “Trash Can Quiz” shows how much you know about the treasures we throw away, and helps kids understand the “materials flow” of many products we use, from the natural resource through manufacturing and disposal. Happy reducing, re-using, recycling, and rotting! And remember, we cannot consume our way to sustainability – reducing and re-using are crucial, not just recycling. Bring in a small garbage can filled with typical items thrown away: plastic water bottle, soda can, office paper, banana peel, tin can, leaves or grass clippings, newspaper. Call on students one at a time to come up, close their eyes (or blindfold), reach in and pick out a treasure…. then surprise them with these amazing statistics (below) by asking a series of questions about how much we throw away in the U.S., how much recycling could save, and what can be made from recycled materials. These statistics are national for the U.S. and are from a variety of years (1990’s and beyond). You can often go to your local waste management authority’s website and get localized statistics and information for your area. For each item chosen by a student from the trash can, ask questions like the following: What is it? (a can, a bottle, a piece of paper, etc.) What is it made of? (glass, metal, etc.) What resources are used to make this? (glass is made from sand, paper is made from trees, plastic is made from oil, cans are made from aluminum that is made from bauxite, etc.) Where does this resource come from? (sand comes from desert, rivers; trees for paper come from forests in US, Canada, Indonesia, Amazon; oil comes from Alaska, South America, Africa, Texas, Middle East; etc.) How much of this item do you think Americans use? (see the statistics below) Can this item be re-used? Can it be recycled? Can it be rotted? Can you make the same thing out of the recycled item – is it a closed loop? (a new bottle can be made from recycled glass; a new soda-can can be made from recycled aluminum; a new plastic bottle CANNOT be made from recycled plastic, but other plastic items like carpet, fleece jackets, or plastic lumber can be made from recycled plastic bottles; new paper can be made from recycled paper; new soil can be made from composted banana, etc.) How much could we save if this item were recycled, re-used, or rotted? (see statistics below) Have fun with this! Express amazement about the amount of resources we use and how much we can save. Ask students if they can imagine these amounts. Ask if they know how to express some of these very large numbers. Ask them what they think. GLASS BOTTLES We throw away enough glass bottles and jars to fill two TransAmerica (the pyramid building in San Francisco) buildings every two weeks. Glass never wears out — it can be recycled forever. We save more than a ton of resources for every ton of glass recycled — 1,330 pounds of sand, 433 pounds of soda ash, 433 pounds of limestone, and 151 pounds of feldspar. A ton of glass produced from raw materials created 384 pounds of mining waste. Using 50% recycled glass cuts it by about 75%. ALUMINUM CANS American consumers and industry throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial airfleet every three months. Aluminum smelting requires A LOT of energy. Making a new can from recycled aluminum can save up to 95% of the energy required compared to “virgin” aluminum (made from all new resources). Aluminum recycling rates have dropped from a high of 65% and are now about 63%. Americans use about 350 aluminum cans per person per year. In 2001, Americans did not recycle 51 billion cans. Recycling 1 aluminum can saves enough energy to run a laptop computer for 4 hours. In the U.S., we throw away cans representing about 200 billion hours of electricity – that’s a lot of power plants! PLASTIC BOTTLES AND PLASTIC BAGS Americans go through 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, only a small percentage of which are recycled. In 2002, 4-5 trillion plastic bags were used globally. Americans throw out 100 billion plastic bags per year, only about 0.6% of the bags are recycled. Plastic can be recycled to make fleece fabric, carpet, sleeping bags, artificial lumber, and other products. The City of San Francisco passed a law banning the use of plastic grocery bags, to be phased in over the next few years. PAPER Every week more than 500,000 trees are used to produce the two-thirds of newspapers that are never recycled. In the U.S. on average, we use 730 pounds of paper per person per year. In Japan the average is 500 lbs/person/year; in India the average is about 10 lbs/person/year. In the U.S., this amounts to about 31.5 million tons of printing and writing paper per year, requiring about 535 million trees (most from virgin fibr) and 12 billion gallons of oil for its manufacturing. The U.S. Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Source: The Green Schools Initiative

City council considers banning plastic bags

Whether Calgarians like it or not, they might be paying ‘tuppence’ a bag – a plastic, non-biodegradable, single-use shopping bag, that is – by December 2010. And although consumers could very well be buying birdseed, the point isn’t to ‘feed the birds,’ but rather to stop feeding Calgary’s landfills.   At this point in the process, Ald. John Mar said it’s but added he’s had the idea ever since attending one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s barbecues last summer. Reusable cloth bags were used as alternative placemats at their table settings. The rest is history-in-the-making, as come spring, at Mar’s request, council will examine the report then debate and decide how the city can best put its greenest foot forward. That could mean anything from taxing plastic bag users at the till to banning the bags altogether. “I’m for it to get rid of the plastic but what do we replace it with?” asked Calgary Safeway shopper Nicola Opsal. “We’ve got hundreds of thousands of students in this city who could probably come up with a better idea,” she said. She wondered if manufacturers instead of consumers should be charged, what dog-owners would use as alternative doggie bags, and if anyone had thought on behalf of the non-profit organizations that use plastic bags to deliver food. Fellow Safeway shopper Dallas Powers said he’s all for strategies to reduce waste but fears an alternative to plastic bags won’t solve the problem. “It seems like six of one, half a dozen of another,” he said if a return to paper bags is in store. “The perfect solution is to mandate and use biodegradable bags,” he said. He added that council shouldn’t be so preoccupied with plastic bags but should take a look at expanding Calgary’s recycling program to include a wider variety of plastics as a means of lessening the load on landfills. He feels good about shopping at places like Planet Organic, where he can take his own reusable containers to the deli instead of purchasing one piece of meat to six pieces of plastic packaging elsewhere. The Sierra Club Chinook Group launched an “anti-plastic bag campaign” last spring, and according to Waste Reduction Campaign Coordinator Grady Semmens, the public has “wholeheartedly” supported the club’s efforts. “If the city chooses to implement a tax on plastic bags, this could be an important new source of revenue for the city and it could potentially be used to offset the cost of the city’s new curb-side recycling program,” said Semmens. “Why not tax something that we want to get rid of as a way of paying for the environmental programs of the city?” As for Powers, he said he always seems to remember to bring his reusable bags to the health food store, but to Safeway not so much. “If I knew they were going to charge me at Safeway, I’m sure I’d start to remember,” he said. And if Opsal had to start paying per bag, she said, “No problem,” she’d be sure to remember her cloth ones next trip. If cases like Ireland are the norm, where according to Semmens a 30-cent bag tax resulted in a swift 90 per cent reduction in use, Calgary could soon be giving the green nation a run for its money.

Happy 2009!

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