It was Monday afternoon and the teen apparel shop at the mall was empty. Greeted at the door by the lone sales clerk on the floor, I walked a loop around the store, as if browsing.
I then headed back to the clerk, who was folding jeans on a display table, with the real reason for my visit: “If I brought you my plastic bags, would you recycle them?” She offered a puzzled look, then a bit of a sheepish one. “No,” she said. “We’d probably throw them away.” Wrong, and wrong again, missy.
You remember New York’s Plastic Bag Reduction, Resource and Recycling Act, don’t you? The statewide law, which took effect five years ago, requires larger retailers, supermarkets and multi-store chains to take back the plastic bags they hand shoppers at checkout, in the interest of corralling litter and saving resources.
In addition to recycling — not trashing — the returned bags, the stores also are supposed to discourage bag use by encouraging shoppers to bring along their own reusable totes for purchases.
After the law took effect in 2009, I spot-checked several supermarkets and walked a couple of local malls to gauge compliance. I saw an enthusiastic mix of colorful bins and odd-looking contraptions installed near store entrances to collect the bags.
Macy’s and Boscov’s still have recycling bins tucked into the vestibules of their mall stores’ parking lot entrances, but I couldn’t find any at the Sears store at Colonie Center. At J.C. Penney’s stand-alone store at Clifton Park Center, I saw one at a side entrance, near the hair salon. The Marshalls store in the mall offered a receptacle near both the front and back checkouts, although one seemed mighty close to being inaccessible behind the bank of cash registers.
At supermarkets and big-box retailers, the bins are easy to locate.
While enforcement of the law falls to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, I could not find out from a spokesman how that effort is going. The department posts phone and email contacts on its website for consumers to report noncompliant retailers.
Moore Recycling Associates, which developed a recycling-education website for the American Chemistry Council, a trade group whose members include bag producers, estimates that 90 percent of the U.S. population has access to a program for recycling plastic bags.
It credits the access to curbside collections or easy-to-get-to drop-off facilities.
Locally, though, plastic bags aren’t accepted for recycling by municipal and private trash haulers.
Indeed, a page on Schenectady County’s recycling website, which details what plastic waste is and isn’t recyclable, tells you to return plastic shopping bags to grocers such as Hannaford and Price Chopper and retailers like Walmart.
Which only goes to show that five years later, the bag recycling law still fills a need — even if it sometimes takes a bit of sleuthing to find a receptacle.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.