Recycling Plastic Shopping Bags

Febrary 28, 2015

Or, how to get rid of all those stupid bags without
sending them to the dump

Within the last few years the supermarkets within the City of Albany have been undergoing a great deal of turbulence, what with the arrival of a new grocery chain not too long ago and the current, almost frantic remodeling of one of the oldest and most established supermarkets. For most of the past 50 years we’ve seen grocery outlets, particularly the ones located downtown, close or pack up and move to the suburbs. But that trend has reversed itself, it appears that the big chains in particular are scrambling to catch the steadily increasing food dollars of the City of Albany consumer.

This is clearly a good sign, a positive indication of the City of Albany’s rising population and increasing economic vitality. The big supermarket chains are quite savvy about such things, their continued success depends upon guessing where the consumer money is located before their rivals do. And like retailers are fond of saying, location is everything. If the supermarket chains want to locate in Albany, they must have decided that Albany is the right place to make a profit.

Empty White Shelves At The Delaware Avenue Price Chopper Ready To Be Removed Empty White Shelves At The Delaware Avenue Price Chopper Ready To Be Removed

So on a recent Saturday afternoon I drove around visiting supermarkets near downtown Albany during a light snowfall. My purpose was to look for plastic shopping bag recycling bins, to see which supermarkets had them and which did not. Also I was interested in how the supermarkets treated those bins, did they put them in accessible places, and perhaps find out if the supermarkets really did recycle plastic bags. Or did they just dump the barrels into the general trash destined for the Rapp Road “Landfill,” which is located in the Pine Bush in western Albany?

This is a matter of deep concern for me, I try to send as little household trash as possible to the dump. Every Sunday evening (the designated trash pickup day for our neighborhood) I put out on the curb in front of my house two blue recycling boxes which are usually full or mostly full of cans, bottles, papers and such. This is the bulk of our weekly waste, I’m proud of being able to do that.

Empty White Shelves At The Delaware Avenue Price Chopper Ready To Be Removed Our Backyard Mulch Pile With Snow And Recent Additions

Sometime in the last decade I decided to start a mulch pile in our little backyard. This is nothing fancy, just a pile of household organic waste. By dumping banana peels and carrot shavings and those ghastly science projects sitting in the back of the refrigerator onto my pile, we’ve cut the amount of non-recyclable waste that we put on the curb by more than half. And hey, the squirrels gotta eat too, although they seem to prefer the neighborhood garbage cans to my pile.

As a result of this casual mulching, on Sunday night I normally put out only one very light partially filled garbage bag destined to be added to The Dump. It’s that bag which bothers me. It’s a bag mostly full of plastic shopping bags, wrappers and other filmy containers that are meant to be used exactly once but that the City will not take as recycling.

The Monday after my weekend tour of the supermarkets I asked Frank Zeoli, the Director of the City of Albany Department of General Services, why not. He assured me the City declined to pick up shopping bags not, as I have often heard, because the bags are too light and therefore unprofitable for the City’s recycling contractor, an outfit called Sierra Processing, to bother with. He explained:

The reason that we do not accept plastic bags is that the Single Stream Material Recovery Facility where we take our recyclables does not accept them. The plastic bags get wrapped around the various parts of their sorting equipment and cost them significant time and money to clear them away.