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Is banning plastic bags in stores enough?

Is banning plastic bags in stores enough?

Garbage has filled my mind lately.

Specifically, plastic bag waste has taken hold of me.

We just finished Natural Foods Merchandiser’s August issue in which we report on grassroots political pushes by retailers. Promoting plastic bag bans in their communities and states is a popular effort.

In fact, I just saw this post from Nature’s Source in Eldon, Mo., on Facebook this morning: We gave the BAG issue some more thought. We asked ourselves why wait? Let’s make this happen now! Help us be the first in our community to BAN THE BAG!

Plastic is a problem

Plastic bag bans garner headlines daily as the issue goes from old-school granola philosophy to gigantic political machine. Illinois’ governor even has to decide whether to sign legislation banning community bag bans. Some call it a recycling promotion; some call it pure politics.

One thing seems lost in all the do-gooding and growing rancor: Plastic is a problem.

People like to question decomposition estimates and whether bags make up most of the refuse found along coastlines. To me, it doesn’t matter. We know it doesn’t decompose easily. We know it piles up in the kitchen. And then, when you throw it away you’d be remiss not to wonder: Where does it collect and for how long?

So with all of these thoughts and questions filling my mind, the timing of an interview for our September magazine couldn’t have been better. Last week, I got to talk to the king of recycling: TerraCycle’s Tom Szaky.

Why banning plastic bags isn't enough

As we talked about what retailers can do to reduce waste, bags entered my mind again. So I presented a dilemma I have.

I try, I really do, to have shopping bags in my car. But, it never fails, off to the store I go without my totes in tow. So, as I check out, and the bagger asks if plastic is OK, I look away and whisper, “Yes.” I used to return the bags to a supermarket for recycling. The retailer, however, removed the bins. Now I try to get them to the local food bank.

I also shop at a natural foods store that doesn’t offer bags. And, the more I thought about it, it also doesn’t take bags for recycling.

To me, it doesn’t make sense. And Szaky explained beautifully why the store should.

“If I was a natural food retailer that is totally anti-plastic bag or paper bag, they’re frankly the same evil... let’s just say disposable bags, I would proactively also collect plastic bags so I’m doing a double win. First I’m not allowing my consumers to use plastic bags but I’m getting my consumers to take plastic bags out of the waste system. … That’s the key; we have to acknowledge that these issues exist and that plastic bags are out there in an absurd amount, not just to say we don’t use them so they don’t exist anymore.”

TerraCycle upcycles plastic bags by compressing 25 of them together to make Target’s Retote reusable bag. But they also are very easy to process by melting, Szaky said.

The message is clear to me: Banning bags isn’t enough.

Stores (and communities) should take action on larger solutions to not only inspire change but truly make improvements. That’s good for the community, and that’s good for business.

Have you seen this photo yet? Chime in with your thoughts about plastic on our newhope360 Facebook page here.

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