Numbers don’t lie in bag debate
September 2, 2011
I am sick of people spouting on about the plastic bag issue and the impact on the environment. There are no actual statistics of how large a waste stream plastic bags create, as they are lumped in the “other” category of wastes produced nationwide annually. This is just another statistic of too much government.
Each year EPA produces a report of municipal solid waste production (see their website). The 2009 report showed that Americans produced about 243 million tons of municipal solid waste, or about 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day. The report shows the percentage different materials contribute to the municipal solid waste stream:
• paper: 28.2 percent
• food scraps: 14.1 percent
• yard trimmings: 13.7 percent
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• plastics: 12.3 percent
• metals: 8.6 percent
• rubber, leather and textiles: 8.3 percent
• wood: 6.5 percent
• glass: 4.8 percent
• other: 3.5 percent
The report also states that the recycling breakdown rates are:
• auto batteries: 95.7 percent
• office-type papers: 74.2 percent
• steel cans: 66 percent
• yard trimmings: 59.9 percent
• aluminum beer and soft drink cans: 50.7 percent
• tires: 35.3 percent
• glass containers: 31.1 percent
• HDPE natural (white translucent) bottles: 28.9 percent
• PET bottles and jars: 28 percent
So, where are the statistics on the impact plastic bags have on our landfills? Obviously the EPA doesn’t feel that of the nationwide 3.5 percent waste reported in the “other” category enough plastic bags were landfilled to rank high enough a waste stream to create its own category. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does not differentiate municipal solid wastes streams in its annual municipal solid waste summary report.
In the 2008 State of Garbage in America survey conducted by BioCycle and EEC, Colorado reported an estimated 8.7 million tons of municipal solid waste were landfilled, recycling only 481,000 tons.
The largest impact an ordinance of this type will have is on the tourist, who is less likely to create any reduction in the “other” category waste stream. With weight restrictions on every airline, who wants to carry reusable bags in their luggage? How about considering a plastic bottle return policy instead, where impact statistics can actually be tracked and programs already created. There would be no reinventing the wheel for implementing, enforcing, etc., thereby costing tax payers less and reducing wasted time and energy on ordinances that have a greater impact on our greatest tax base, the tourist.
People of the Roaring Fork Valley, stand up and pay attention to this issue. How far will you let government go to create and enforce an issue that has no statistics and cannot actually be reported on, yet will create a new General Ledger line item to tax payers. Check out your neighborhood recycling containers.
They all specify “No” plastic bags. Why, because there are no plastic bag recycling facilities in Colorado. Just visit Colorado website http://www.recycleyourplasticbag.com. The only current way to recycle your plastic bag is to send it to an out-of-state recycler. Impact you say, fuel, carbon monoxide, etc. Your plastic bag waste stream will ultimately end up in a Colorado landfill because it is too expensive to recycle.
I urge each and everyone of you to become truly informed before making a decision of this magnitude. The issue is not whether to charge 20 cents to dissuade us from using plastic bags, but how can we, as individuals, create less of an impact to our environment. Choose your recycled waste streams wisely. Get informed.
P.S. It took less than an hour to report on these statistics using online data. Making an informed decision is not a daunting task.