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Plastic Bag Recycling

  1. Jul 29, 2008 #1
    Take a look at this slide show:


    "There's harsh economics behind There's harsh economics behind
    bag recycling: It costs $4,000 to bag recycling: It costs $4,000 to
    process and recycle 1 ton of plastic process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32 the commodities market for $32”

    Everywhere I've looked on line for information about plastic bag recycling costs, this quote (by Jared Blumenfeld) seems to keep popping up. Is recycling plastic bags really that costly?

    Moreover, does anyone know where our plastic bags are really going? I've read that they're often sent overseas where disposal laws are lax and they can be incinerated, causing air pollution.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2008 #2
    I use mine to pick up dog poop, and I must admit I have no idea what happens to them after that. :yuck:

    Our city (Seattle) just passed a law that requires all stores to charge 20 cents per disposable bag to encourage people to use re-usable bags. You would think the $$ earned by this surcharge should go towards the cost of recycling, but I suspect they are just using the money for other things under the guise of "doing good".
  4. Jul 29, 2008 #3


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    They use plastic bags to decorate hedge rows with where i live, it is very clever how they do it, they just use an open top garbage wagon and let the wind take the bags to the hedges.
  5. Aug 1, 2008 #4
    If plastic bag recycling was economical people would be paying you for your bags. We might even see plastic thefts at construction sites, but we don't. As for the environmental impact, sure birds can get caught in them and die, they can also get sucked into jet engines or run into windows or even get fried by microwave transmissions. Life is hard for a bird, but at least they have fewer predators.

    Every time a "surcharge" (read 'Tax') is added by the government, it's all about money. Even if they guarantee the money is to put towards recycling, that doesn't really mean anything. Lotterys for school funding is a prime example. Schools get $10 for funding. Lottery is started to fund schools, raises $8. So school funding is now $18 right? Wrong, school funding is still $10 maybe $11, but $7 of new found budget can be spent on other things. It looks great on paper, makes the people feel good about giving the government more money, but it's really just a new tax going into general funds.
  6. Aug 1, 2008 #5
    I just hand out any left-over plastic bags I have to toddlers to play with.
  7. Aug 1, 2008 #6


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    If they would sell reusable ones in a proper size instead of in those miniature versions, I'd probably start getting some. But, since they would add more trips up and down stairs to carry more bags in from my car because they're too small to hold a decent amount of groceries, I'm sticking with the plastic bags. It's bad enough that most stores don't have paper bags anymore and the plastic bags are already smaller than the paper bags used to be. I'd reuse them more if the stores didn't use such cheap, thin plastic bags that they already have holes in them by the time I get home (I really prefer paper bags).
  8. Aug 1, 2008 #7


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    Like most people I use the free supermarket bags to put trash in.
    I could use paper bags and buy plastic bin-liners I suppose!

    Other things to consider, how much energy (oil) does it take to make a paper bag, how much to transport them?
    As an example, in the UK we used to have milk delivered to the door in re-used glass bottles (even better than recycling - the same bottles were taken back and refilled).
    Then one town switched to plastic pouches, it worked out it used 5t of plastic in the pouches but 200t/year of fuel oil to heat the water to wash the bottles. Plus the extra energy to transport the heavy glass bottles plus the amount of waste water to be treated.

    End-end energy use isn't always as simple as landfill=bad.
  9. Aug 1, 2008 #8
    Around here (Washington) all the stores I go to have paper and plastic. And the reusable bags look like they're about the same size as paper bags (which are bigger than plastic bags). Plus, the reusable ones have handles.

    >If plastic bag recycling was economical people would be paying you for your bags.
    I never thought it was economical, but I thought the price of recycling wouldn't be as bad as that ($32 return on $4000 in recycling)

    >End-end energy use isn't always as simple as landfill=bad.
    Very true. One of the reasons I think reusable bags are a good idea.There's still other considerations (do you wash the bags at home, for instance) but I think they're a better choice than recycling or putting plastic bags in a landfill (or wherever they end up).
  10. Aug 1, 2008 #9

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    Where I live, a lot of garbage goes to a "Resource-recovery" plant, which is an incinerator-generator. I have no qualms about it, since I believe that the highly efficient burning process and the scrubbing process make trash-burning one of the greenest options for electricity.

    Those plastic bags are a bundle of petroleum energy. The equivalent energy from coal-burning is far more polluting.

    Ditto for paper bags; burn them too (in my wood stove).
  11. Aug 1, 2008 #10
    I believe California is trying to institute a plastic bag tax of 50 cents a piece. Considering the number of bags the average grocery store uses to bag your groceries, including double bagging, you could wind up getting taxed a few dollars just for one small grocery trip.

    The worst part about this sort of thing is that California consistently comes up with these tax schemes for "deterence" of certain behavior but then bank on having the money from the tax. So once the "deterence" factor kicks in they suddenly start to whine and complain that they aren't making as much in revenue as they expected and need to institute more taxes.
  12. Aug 1, 2008 #11


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    Wash them? Never thought about it...but if I did I would dry them using Woolie's hedge row method. Very energy efficient!
  13. Aug 2, 2008 #12


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    That is a good point. I've certainly arrived home to discover the milk container fell over and leaked all over the bag on the way home, and I don't even try saving the bags I use for meat, because those packages are often leaky too.

    A big part of the problem with plastic bags is their shape and bad material quality make it hard to fully utilize the bag. I do my best to reduce the number of bags I carry out of the store simply by packing them as efficiently as possible. Even so, I just can't really pack them as well as I used to be able to pack paper bags. You'll end up using 4 plastic bags to every 1 paper bag. Because paper bags hold their shape, you could really pack them full. Put a layer of canned goods at the bottom, then a middle layer of goods in soft packaging (paper products, things in boxes), then put your produce on top of it all, and sometimes still room for the loaf of bread on top. With the plastic bags, everything shifts around, and once I put in a layer of canned goods, the handle is already risking breaking, and the bag shape makes it impossible to carry it from the bottom.

    So, when you consider the costs, you also have to think about HOW MANY bags do you use of any particular type.

    I hadn't thought about the need to wash those reusable bags, but that's yet another consideration, especially as I think about it and realize the ones in the local stores are either bright blue or bright green (matching store logos), so they probably aren't colorfast to put in with your other laundry. Can they be bleached if meat packages leak into them? Is it more green to wash and dry your grocery bags, or to use plastic and toss?

    I WISH the ones here were the same size as paper bags. :frown: The ones they sell here are about half the size (they're closer to the size of the plastic bags). Something the size and shape of a paper bag with sturdy handles would be much more appealing to me (though, when I was still a teen in NJ, they had paper bags with handles...while you couldn't use the handle if the bag was heavy, if it was just light stuff in it, those were quite convenient for carrying one extra bag into the house at a time).

    Maybe I should start making my own from fabric remnants. Then I'll know they're washable, I can make them any size I like, and will be sure the handles are sewn on in a way that will last.
  14. Aug 2, 2008 #13


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    My wife has a large collection of canvas shopping bags - some very large ones for light items like bread, cereals, etc, and some smaller ones for heavier items. They have lasted for years and years and can just be tossed in the wash when they get dirty. The supermarket she shops at gives per-bag discounts when you bring your own re-usable bags.
  15. Aug 2, 2008 #14


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    But does it really matter what they do with the money? If it encourages more people to use reusable bags, the good has already been done.
  16. Aug 2, 2008 #15
    I get a 3 cent a bag discount for using my canvas bags. With so many people using them here, the baggers actually know how to pack them now.
  17. Aug 2, 2008 #16


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    My cousin sent out a family wide email the other day denouncing the use of plastic bags. I thought it was very odd. I'm always at the river and am looking for them to put all the trash into. I suppose I could build my own hedge row to collect them.

    But for the most part, I do what mgb_phys does, I use them as trash bags at home. Though I think I might already have a 40 year supply stored up.

    I also get a "food day" newspaper shaped coupon brick thrown onto my driveway every Tuesday. These come in smaller plastic bags. I've discovered that they make great automobile trash bags. Although I have to double them up as they usually have a hole in them somewhere. Otherwise, it's garbage in, garbage out.


  18. Aug 2, 2008 #17
    First this assumes that reusable bags are really better, whatever better means. Unless someone can show me the amount of energy (and water ) consumed in creating/transporting a disposable plastic bag vs washing a reusable one I am going to leave this as an unanswered question.

    Second, if this is really doing good, why doesn't the government just outlaw plastic bags insead of charging for them? It's the same reason the government raises the cost of water (supposedly to influence conservation.) then when less water is used they increase the cost again! If plastic bags are truely this big a concern then outlaw them! If we really are running out of water then ration it! What this is doing is puting the squease on the poor while putting more money in the pockets of a government that has proven itself irresponsible!

    P.S. I don't see any reason to get all concerned about plastic bags, but it does scare me that there are some people who do.
  19. Aug 2, 2008 #18


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    There is no need to wash a canvas bag unless it is dirtied by a leaky package of chicken, steak, or something. A little fruit juice etc isn't going to hurt anything. Most of the food in stores is packaged so heavily that the bags are just ways of gathering lots of packages of food in one container with handles. Is using canvas bags better for the environment than using plastic bags? Given the high petrochemical content of the plastic and the amount of energy needed to melt and form the sheets, cut them, and weld the seams, I doubt that you can make a clear case for using plastic bags over canvas. Paper bags are a bit better than plastic. Wood is a renewable resource, but it takes a LOT of energy to chemically digest the wood (the Kraft process is the only one that produces long fibers to make really strong bag-stock) and then the pulp must be washed, de-watered and delivered to a bag-stock paper machine. The sheet has to be formed, pressed, and steam-dried so there is a lot of energy tied up in every bit of bag-stock or liner-board. When I was a kid, stores got their stock in corrugated cartons, and when you brought your purchases to the counter, they offered you the choice of boxes or bags. Those of us who heated with wood always chose boxes, because we got a little free fuel and good fire-starting material out of the boxes. Bags were OK, but boxes were better.
  20. Aug 2, 2008 #19
    It's not like there's any difference between outlawing and taxing something. Why not just outlaw cigarettes? Or alcohol?

    The difference between plastic bags and water, as I see it, is that people don't need plastic bags (but go ahead and try to argue that they do, and that fees for bags is actually a significant burden on them).

    By the way, did you look at the link I posted? There's a lot of reasons in that link to think plastic bags are bad (likely worse than reusable) for the environment, and I'd be interested to hear if you could dispute them.
  21. Aug 2, 2008 #20
    Just tonight the local supermarket reduced the price for these reusable bags from $1.29 each to 4 for $1.98. They take a nickel off the tape for each reusable bag that you bring with you, and just to be counter-intuitive, they take 2 cents off the tape if you reuse a plastic bag. Huh? Anyway, I bought 2000 reusable bags, so from now on, all my grocery shopping will be free. I feel I am doing something positive for the environment and the economy too.
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