Let’s be honest – plastic bags are not easy to recycle. Many programs specifically say to NOT recycle the plastic bags.
That’s likely the biggest reason why 90 percent of plastic bags in the U.S. are not recycled. Yet an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, with 380 billion of those in the U.S.
So how are government, businesses and individuals moving to reduce their waste and plastic consumption?
Governments have been slow-moving at best to do anything about all the waste we produce. However, the city of San Francisco is on track to be the first zero waste city by 2020. I’m eager to watch how a top-down approach works. Watch and learn about what San Francisco is doing to become a zero waste city here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/climate-change/jan-june13/recycling_01-25.html
If you do use a plastic bag, you have to pay an additional charge. If you fail to properly dispose of other types of garbage and compost, you could be fined.
According to this article, http://www.no-burn.org/san-francisco-zero-waste-by-2020-on-the-road-to-zero-waste-blog, there’s a few drivers for moving towards a zero waste city.
“One reason for these laws is a citizen base that demands commitment to environmental sustainability. San Francisco has activated and empowered civic leaders, including advocates from the environmental field.
Another driver for passing these waste reduction laws is the cost associated with dumping garbage into a landfill in Livermore, 82 km away, where San Francisco hauls its waste daily.
Increased diversion and hitting zero waste goals will create real savings in landfill costs.
The city government, which produces 15 percent of the city’s waste stream, is committed to lead by example.
Part of the city’s success can be credited to consistent funding – not from the city, but directly from the rates paid for garbage collection. The overall budget for the Zero Waste Program is approximately US$7 million annually, which funds come from the collection revenues of the city’s private waste-management partner.”
The East Coast has some interesting innovations happening in the private sector. In Cambridge, Metabolix is creating growable bioplastics: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/08/12/cambridge-company-developing-biodegradable-plastic-that-grows-from-ground/zHwQ9OmW3PEpfDq9HpFGbI/story.html
It’s easy to spot the noticeable campaigns that many companies have included in their marketing. Companies make a point to mention how they are going green. Individuals are paying attention and are spending on products that they agree with. (whole foods has new ‘responsible’ plastic packaging. Hey, it’s a start)
According to this industry report, The global biodegradable plastics market in terms of volume is expected to grow from 664,000 metric tons in 2010 to 2330,000 metric tons by 2016, at an estimated CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 20.24% from 2011 to 2016.
Oh and there’s a bioplastics magazine, if that’s your thing: http://www.bioplasticsmagazine.com/en/index.php
How about for individuals and waste reduction?
This morning I talked with Rui who helps run the Hope Street Farmer’s Market here in Providence, and he’s seen a big increase in the amount of reusable bags that buyers are bringing compared to a few years ago.
A bottom-up approach will work just fine when government is slow moving in the direction of zero waste. The vendors at the farmer’s market, and businesses in general, will start paying attention when customers are voicing their concerns, or simply choosing not to buy something that is wasteful.
We are waking up to the destruction that oil based plastics are causing. With changes coming from the government, our citizens, and from companies with a mission to innovate and profit from sustainability, the [insert your own awesome motivational closing line here]