Plastic bags complicate city's recycling


POSTED: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Question: Regarding your column about how to recycle plastic checkout bags (Kokua Line, Feb. 1): Isn't the city collecting plastics numbered 1 and 2 in its mixed-recyclables curbside bins? Longs and Don Quijote have plastic bags with those numbers, so I've been putting them in the blue mixed recyclables bin.

Answer: Plastic CONTAINERS with the numbers 1 or 2 are accepted by the city in both the blue bins, as well as in the community recycling bins.

Plastic bags are not.

Although some plastic bags have a No. 2 code, film plastics are not the same as rigid plastics, said Markus Owens, spokesman for the city Department of Environmental Services.

Plastic bags come in a variety of resin compositions and number codes, which complicate any collection/recycling program, he said.

To keep recycling simple and less confusing, the city has opted not to accept any plastic bags and to focus instead on big-quantity materials, Owens said.

Q: Thank you for the great article on recycling plastic bags. I hope you can answer another question. We have always found use for all our plastic bags, such as lining our wastebaskets, using them at the open markets and bagging our wastes. If the plastic bags are banned outright, we will need to purchase wastebasket liners, which, most likely, will be plastic. Or we will need to use big plastic liners inside the collection bins. This seems to defeat the purpose of banning grocery plastic bags. I had no idea, until your article, that they could be recycled into other household things. If plastic bags are indeed recyclable, then why doesn't the city allow us to place them in the blue bins? This would be simpler than deposits or credits or banning plastic bags.

A: See above.

Basically, the city believes reusing the bags, recycling them through the stores or just tossing them in the trash to be burned at the city's HPOWER plant “;is all proper and beneficial,”; according to city spokesman Markus Owens.

At-store recycling collection programs that accept only plastic bags can better handle the complexities of the different plastic codes, he said, while reusing the bags at home helps people save money.

From the city's standpoint, “;plastic bags contribute high Btu (unit of energy) to the waste-to-energy process at HPOWER,”; Owens said.

When burned, plastics can yield roughly 10,000 to 20,000 Btu per pound, he said.

The Department of Environmental Services “;considers HPOWER a form of recycling because it takes Oahu's trash and turns it into electricity, which can power approximately 45,000 homes by processing approximately 600,000 tons of garbage annually,”; Owens said.

The biggest concern about plastic bags is when they end up as litter, on land and in streams and oceans, he said.

Owens said retailers need to assume more responsibility in offering consumers multiple options on what to do with the bags, such as providing recycling collection; providing information about reusing, recycling or properly disposing of the bags; and distributing reusable shopping bags with incentives to actually use them.


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