(Chelsea Update would like to thank Frank Hammer and the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority for the information in this column.)
Nationwide, more and more cities and counties are banning the use of plastic shopping bags.
One main reason is the problems they create for recycling efforts. At the Michigan Recycling Coalition Conference held in May, all 57 recycling facilities in the state agreed that plastic bags are the biggest challenge to efficient recycling. For this reason, Washtenaw County will be examining such a ban in the coming weeks.
Reggie is smiling, because single-stream recycling has greatly increased public participation everywhere it has been introduced. However, the mechanical sorting equipment is highly vulnerable, diminishing his smile.
Reggie thinks of it as “plastic bag bacteria,” the constant “infection” of plastic bags in the equipment. Most people recognize that constantly eating sugary treats defeats the purpose of tooth-brushing or oral hygiene. Similarly, constantly exposing recycle-sorting machinery to plastic bags defeats the purpose of efficient recycling hygiene.
In WWRA’s case, the “tooth-brushing” takes 1 to 2 man-hours per day to cut the bags out of the sorting equipment, adding $1,900 in costs to the WWRA budget in the last 6 months.
Additionally, the “cavity filling” replacement cost (both equipment and labor) during that time has been about $12,000. For a year, that comes out to almost $30,000 of tax-payer money, spent on an entirely preventable problem.
Despite many efforts, nobody has yet developed a sorter that can effectively sort the bags from the recycling stream. In fact, the problem is international. A significant number of countries have banned the bags altogether because of environmental and trash issues.
Reggie is not waiting for Washtenaw County, or the state of Michigan, to catch up, however. Every time he shops, he either uses his own tote bags, or asks for “paper, not plastic, please.”
Though paper bags do require more energy to produce and transport, they are great for recycling purposes due to the long fibers they are made of. And, they prevent the “plastic bag bacteria” that is so harmful to recycling efforts everywhere.
Reggie’s Royal Review: Support the county-wide effort to “ban the bag,” coming to public discussion forums soon. Meanwhile, use paper, or bring your own totes. You will be a true Reggie Recycling Ranger when you do.