Environment News Service (ENS)

Plastic bag recycling coming to Big Apple stores


Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

New York City Council Wednesday passed new legislation that would encourage recycling of single-use plastic bags at large supermarkets and other retail outlets throughout the city.

The legislation, sponsored by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and others, would require large retail outlets in New York City to establish in-store plastic bag recycling programs, inform consumers of the availability of such programs and to offer reusable bags for sale.

The measure applies to stores in the city that use plastic bags and occupy 5,000 or more square feet or have more than five branches operating in New York City.

The legislation requires store operators to provide an easily accessible collection bin for plastic bags in visible locations. In addition, the stores will be required to use plastic bags that display the words 'Please return this bag to a participating store for recycling' or a similar message as well as make reusable bags available for purchase.

The stores will also be required to submit annual reports to the Department of Sanitation on the amount and weight of collected plastic bags.

'Plastic bags all too often end up littering our city's streets, and polluting our soil and water,' said Quinn. 'New Yorkers want to be environmentally responsible, and we need to give them a chance to reduce the number of plastic bags they use, and recycle the ones they already have. This legislation will create convenient opportunities for bags to be recycled, in a way that's friendly to both local businesses and to the environment.'

Quinn said the bill would help to protect the environment, to keep litter off city streets and to reduce and recycle as many plastic bags as possible.

'This bill mandates a simple, easily instituted plan that strikes a balance between convenience and conscience,' said Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., lead sponsor of the bill. 'With everyone's help, we can help reduce a major form of waste and make our city a more environmentally friendly place.'

Americans use an estimated 84 billion plastic bags annually, about one billion of them in New York City. The production of plastic bags worldwide uses over 12 million barrels of oil per year, causing other negative environmental impacts, the council members pointed out.

'The flood of used plastic bags is clogging our streets and natural areas with litter, while causing a serious depletion of natural resources,' said Sanitation Committee Chair Michael McMahon. 'Our push towards recycling will help secure a cleaner and greener New York.'

The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, applauded council's approval of the legislation.

'The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, clogging our cabinets, kitchen drawers and landfills. They're hanging from trees, and littering our beaches,' said NRDC Urban Program co-director, Eric Goldstein.

'The bill ensures that retailers will give customers a better choice than simply throwing away a product made from oil that will sit in a landfill for up to a thousand years,' he said.

Plastic bags and other plastic film, which is also covered by the bill, represents four to five percent of the city's residential waste load, the New York City Sanitation Department has found. No more than five percent of plastic grocery bags were recycled across the country in 2005, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Goldstein said, 'The proposed legislation will discourage the one-time use and throw-away of plastic bags, reduce energy consumption and global warming gases, and lead at least some New Yorkers to think about the cost to taxpayers and the city's environment from wasteful packaging practices.'

In March 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to pass a law banning plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets and large chain pharmacies. Officials in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California, and Austin, Texas, are considering similar bans.

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