Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Plastic bag makers get into recycling

The plastic bag industry has an Earth Day surprise: less plastic.

Under pressure from consumers, environmental advocates and retailers, the companies that make more than 80 percent of plastic bags used by the nation’s big retailers today will announce plans to make the plastic bags from 40 percent recycled content by 2015.

It’s no accident that the announcement is being made around Wednesday’s 39th observance of Earth Day.

The move comes as some cities are outlawing the bags and trend-setting retailers, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, have dropped them. Plastic bags, which take hundreds of years to degrade, are regarded by many consumers as eyesores, threats to wildlife and wasteful. The $1 billion industry makes about 90 billion plastic bags annually in the USA alone.

With this move to ramp-up plastic bag recycling, some 463 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and 300 million pounds of waste will be cut annually, says Cal Dooley, CEO of the American Chemistry Council, the trade group for the major plastic bag makers. “This is unprecedented.”

“This is a significant commitment by the plastic bag industry to reduce waste,” says Matthew McKenna, president of the non-profit group Keep America Beautiful, which will receive an undisclosed donation from the American Chemistry Council.

But not everyone is applauding the move. That includes Earth Day Network, the organizing body of Earth Day worldwide.

“It’s annoying. And it’s transparent,” says Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network. “The death knell has sounded for plastic bags. They’re just trying to continue to make a bad thing.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council agrees: “We don’t want people to use disposable bags. We want people to use reusable bags,” says Darby Hoover, a senior research specialist.

Management consultant Pam Murtaugh says the Earth Day gambit will backfire. “They’re late to the party of good sense. In bragging about it now, they’re only building their own glass house.”

But Dooley insists the move is more than cosmetic. He says the industry will spend $50 million to overhaul the manufacturing process and will collect 470 million pounds of recycled plastic annually to make the new bags.

Among major retailers that will be part of this new program: Home Depot and Walgreens.

Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin says the program is “innovative” and will “help improve the environment.’

Home Depot is “encouraged by the positive steps the industry is taking toward sustainability,” says spokeswoman Tia Robinson.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service