Thursday, January 3, 2013
At the Del Monte Center mall in Monterey, reusable bags seem to be the latest fashion trend. A look around during the height of holiday season reveals more cloth and woven totes, and far fewer plastic and paper bags, than last year.
It’s likely the result of the city’s six-month-old ban on single-use plastic shopping bags – and on Jan. 1, the related fee on paper bags jumped from 10 to 25 cents. The goal is to cut back on disposable bags and encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable ones.
But behind merchant counters, plastic bags are still getting trashed by the canful.
During a recent visit to the mall’s Express store, an employee pulls sweaters out of a shipping box, showing how each item comes encased in its own clear plastic bag. Store associates remove the bags and stuff them in the trash before putting the clothes out for sale, the employee explains.
Express is probably not an exception in the retail industry. At the mall alone, this cast-off plastic could account for magnitudes more waste than what’s been reduced with Monterey’s bag ban.
According to Ted Terrasas, the city’s sustainability coordinator, the ban is mostly meant to cut down on the kinds of bags that end up as litter. “Recovering other types of plastics is a good idea, such as packaging material,” he writes by email. “But one advantage is that this waste usually ends up in one consolidated place, such as a recycler or landfill.”
On July 1, the day Monterey’s bag ban took effect, AB 341 did too. The state law mandates recycling at multi-family residences and commercial sites producing at least 4 cubic yards of waste per week.
But it doesn’t specify which materials should be recycled. CalRecycle spokesman Jeff Danzinger says there are no state laws regarding plastic film waste, or even statistics tracking it. “It shouldn’t be going to the landfill,” he adds.
Del Monte Center General Manager Jill Vivanco says the mall recycles white paper, cardboard and restaurants’ bottles and cans. But there are no recycling bins available to patrons, and plastic packaging is not recycled at all. “Most of that stuff is considered trash anyway,” she says.
Monterey City Disposal does, however, collect plastic film in its curbside recycling program, and its commercial services include commingled recycling containers.
Tom Parola, the hauling company’s operations manager, confirms that whatever’s put into the mall’s garbage bins, including clear plastic bags, ends up in the landfill. “If it goes in the trash, we don’t separate it,” he says.
Del Monte Center has only one commingled recycling container, located behind Whole Foods. Whole Foods also separates its food scraps for composting, Parola says, and several stores have their own private trash-hauling systems.
But Jeff Lindenthal, spokesman for the Monterey Regional Waste Management District (which does not do the hauling for the city of Monterey), is surprised clean plastic bags from mall stores would be trashed. He says some local businesses, like the REI store in Marina, do recycle their warehouse packaging.
“That clean film plastic is actually valuable, more so than the post-consumer plastic folks are putting into their recycling at the curb,” he says. “If there’s value in there, someone’s going to try to capture it.”
[This story was revised Jan. 3, 2013 to correct an error. An earlier version stated that Monterey Regional Waste Management District does not service the city of Monterey; in fact, the district does provide a full range of services to the city but Monterey City Disposal Service is its hauler.]