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What To Do About Plastic Grocery Bags?

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Environmentalists are encouraging citizens to make the holiday season a time for recycling.   "If you walk down the street you will see plastic bags stuck in trees, you will see them in the sewers..."  Saima Anjam  with Environmental Advocates of New York believes disposable bags are usually good for a single trip from the store and have a useful life of about 12 minutes.  The group is encouraging Governor Andrew Cuomo to address New Yorkers' $10 billion disposable bag-per-year habit by imposing a fee on retailers who package consumer purchases in disposable bags.  "In Washington D-C, they actually implemented a five-cent charge on plastic bags and it really resulted in an 86 percent reduction in plastic bag use in just the first six months."

Anjam suggests New Yorkers switch to environmentally-friendly reusable bags. She points out that some communities have enacted bans against plastic grocery bags. She says retailers spend $4 billion a year on plastic bags.  Workers at a Capital Region Save-A-Lot say their chain, like many other supermarkets, encourages shoppers to avail themselves of reusable bags.

Jamie Tuttle, the School Recycling coordinator for the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, counters that if you must use plastic bags, there is a little-publicized option.   "..film, plastic and plastic bags... so that includes bread bags and dry cleaning bags and zip-loc bags. All of those items, a lot of people don't know that you can bring them right back to ANY grocery store in New York State to be recycled."

Southampton Advocates for the Village Environment is a volunteer committee on Long Island that successfully promoted legislation prohibiting the use of plastic grocery bags in the community. The group was recognized at the 10th annual New York State Environmental Excellence Awards, held earlier this month in Schenectady.

When it comes to recycling all of that holiday wrapping material, Tuttle suggests checking with your local department of public works.   "Speaking for Oneida and Herkimer Counties, we do accept Holiday Gift Wrap for two weeks after Christmas. The cardboard tubes that the giftwrap is wrapped around, those can go in your recycling bin. As far as packaging, cardboard gift boxes, those are fine, but any of the plastic packaging that you have, that is always a trash item, so that includes styrofoam and packing peanuts, any of the bubble wrap or plastic package that a toy may come in, the rigid plastic, all of those things are trash items."

In many places, natural evergreen Christmas trees and sometimes wreaths are accepted for recycling: contact your local municipality to see if there is a separate collection schedule or special instructions for discarding Christmas trees.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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