Plastic litter

Friday, August 5, 2005

Hardly a day goes by that doesn't involve plastic bags, those convenient totes with built-in handles that most retailers provide for shoppers at checkout lanes.

Most homes have a drawer or shelf or bin stuffed with these plastic bags, which conveniently squeeze tighter and tighter, making room for ... more bags.

There are dozens of ways to reuse the bags around the house, but eventually the bags must be disposed of. In the past, most bags -- millions and millions of them -- went into the trash and ended up in a landfill.

Now, thanks to a new five-year contract between Cape Girardeau and Inter-Rail Inc., recycling-minded residents can take the plastic bags to the city's recycling center or leave them on the curb for pickup by the city's recycling crews. Previously, the recycling center had no way to get rid of the plastic bags except to send them to the landfill.

At current market prices, the city will get a modest amount -- $10 a ton -- for the plastic bags, which is better than having to pay someone to haul them away.

Because the bags are so lightweight, they are a huge source of litter. It would be nice if having a recycling outlet for the bags would somehow reduce the number of bags blowing along city streets and highways and across parking lots.

But plastic bags that become litter are the result of uncaring shoppers who toss them or inadequately covered trash trucks hauling them away. Recycling won't solve either of those problems.

To get plastic bags out of the stream of litter, people are going to have to change their habits. If that could be done, it would be the icing on the new recycling option for plastic bags.

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