Monday, April 28, 2008

Paper or Plastic?

In this morning's Newsday, there's an article dealing with the effectiveness of plastic bag recycling. As we've commented before, we're not persuaded that the voluntary measures will work-nor are we convinced that the environmental concerns are unassailable here. One thing we should all be aware of is the impact of unintended consequences; remember that the ethanol push and the current food shortages are connected-something that the global warmers need to be cognizant of.

Now NYC is about to implement its own voluntary recycling program for the bags, receptacles that are omnipresent in every city neighborhood litter basket, and are generally filled with dog poop. But will the folks recycle? As Newsday points out: "It's unclear how voluntary measures that rely on conscientious shoppers would reduce litter tossed by those who presumably care little for the environment. "When people recycle, they recognize a material has value and are, we believe, less likely to litter," said Keith Christman of the plastic bag industry group Progressive Bag Affiliates."

And the rates where voluntary programs are in place aren't a cause for celebration: "San Francisco, which banned nonbiodegradable bags last year, had voluntary recycling in place for decades, said Mark Westlund, spokesman for the city's Department of the Environment. "We found we were getting about a 1 percent recycling rate, which means that the program is about a 99 percent failure," he said."

The problem, unlike with the bottle law, is that absent any monetary incentive there's no compelling reason, other than an environmental consciousness, for customers to recycle: "There is really no incentive for bringing back the bags," said Mike McGuire of Huntington, after he redeemed two sacks of plastic soda bottles for their deposits at the store's bottle room."

Which means that the measure in the city is really a holding pattern orchestrated by the plastic bag group. The NRDC's Eric Goldstein's comments are to this point: "Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, supports the voluntary recycling laws but acknowledged that some backers have ulterior motives."I don't think it's a secret that some industry groups use voluntary recycling programs as a way of dissipating energy for more vigorous efforts to combat waste and litter," Goldstein said."

Which gets us right back to the efficacy question: "But will the programs work? "That's the $64,000 question," said Trottere, whose company sells disposable and reusable bags, and a recycling system that outfits retailers with bins and signs. "What is the average grocery shopper going to do? Are they going to inconvenience themselves, collect the bags and take them back to the mall?"

We'll all stay tuned. But let's not expect any great rush to the supermarket unless there's a significant deposit placed on the bags just as there is on soda and beer containers. The only certainty? Greater compliance costs for already hard pressed food retailers.