New York City struggles with plastic bag waste

Plastic Bag
CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

The New York Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal reports that New York spends "$10 million annually to send 100,000 tons of plastic bags that are tossed in the general trash to landfills in South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania" and that New Yorkers are laggards when it comes to big cities addressing plastic bag pollution:

Since 2009, large stores throughout the state providing plastic bags have been required to take them back for recycling. But there is not much enforcement, Mr. Gonen said, and the program “hasn’t put a dent” in the numbers.

While the chain pharmacies and supermarkets in my neighborhood initially put out recycling bins for the bags, they have largely disappeared. Some stores will begrudgingly take back plastic at the sales counter — though I’ve seen the bags subsequently tossed in the trash. (Though plastic bags can be recycled, they must be separated from other forms of plastic.) The Bloomberg administration is also considering partnering with supermarkets to create incentive programs with shopping points awarded to those who bring reusable bags.

Frank Convery, an economist at University College, Dublin, who has studied the effects of Ireland’s 10-year-old bag tax — the first in the world — is skeptical: “As regards the plastic bag issue, whatever is done has to be mandatory,” he said. “The New York model is designed to fail.”

Too much carrot and not enough stick.

VIDEO: Plastic Bag by Ramin Bahrani
Struggling with its immortality, a discarded plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) ventures through the environmentally barren remains of America as it searches for its maker.

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