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Arizona Cleaning Equipment » Plastic bags gum up Phoenix recycling

Plastic bags gum up Phoenix recycling

August 28th, 2012

AZ central published a story yesterday about a recent survey in Phoenix that reveals that 11 percent of plastic bag users still dispose of them in recycling containers. This, of course, causes problems and delays for our local recycling program. Though I already knew it wasn’t appropriate to mix plastic bags with other recyclable items, I didn’t have a good explanation for it. This publication gives you that, as well a short background on the Phoenix recycling program.

Remember: “Ignorance and inconsideration are the two great causes of the ruin of mankind.” I hope you enjoy this read and take a minute to share it on your social network

Plastic bags gum up Phoenix recycling

by Betty Reid

Phoenix has tried for years to persuade residents to stop throwing plastic grocery bags into the city’s blue recycle bins.

But despite the city’s efforts, many residents continue to toss the bags in the containers, costing more than $1 million a year. And residents who do this may do more harm than good because the city turns around and dumps the plastic in the landfill.

A city-commissioned survey of 1,201 residents in February indicated 11 percent of respondents still threw plastic bags into the recycle bin.

“I don’t think people are being malicious,” said Terry Gellenbeck, Phoenix’s solid waste administrative analyst. “A lot of people get mixed up.”

Despite the survey, Albert Alvarez, Phoenix recycling information specialist, said he has seen an improvement since grocery stores started Bag Central Station in 2007. Through the program, residents can toss plastic bags in bins at the grocery store so the plastic can be recycled into items such as plastic furniture and decking.

“Plastic bags are recyclable but not in your bin at home,” he said. “At the grocery store, the plastic bags stay nice and clean. And the grocery store, they turn around and have a buyer for all their plastics.”

The survey

Phoenix’s most recent research about plastic-bag recycling was finished in February. The city also conducted research in 2008 and 2007.

According to the research, 72 percent of plastic-bag users find other uses for them, while 11 percent returned them to the store and 11 percent disposed of them in the city’s recycling container. The previous study showed 10 percent pitched plastic bags into recycle bins in 2008, down from 12 percent in 2007.

Phoenix Behavior Research Center Inc. conducted the study by telephone with Phoenix heads of households in February. The purpose of the work was to gauge residents’ use of plastic bags and their attitudes about plastic-bag recycling, according to the research.

The survey also asked respondents about their attitudes about plastic bags as an ecological problem and their awareness of Bag Central Station displays at grocery stores.

Doreen Pollack, who lives in Phoenix, said she has a guest house, and her guests often put their recyclable items in a plastic bag or they throw everything into the bin. She then has to take the items out of the bag and resort them, or fish out the plastic bags.

“(It) just seems wrong to leave them in the bin when I see them,” she said.

Pollack, who is also the executive director of Valley Permaculture Alliance, said her non-profit teaches people how to live sustainably. When she forgets to bring her cloth bag to the grocery store, Pollack uses a plastic bag, which she reuses for pet litter.

Pollack believes getting the message to people is a real challenge.

“I think people don’t get the message,” she said. “People say, ‘We’re surprised I never saw that.’ I think people are so busy they don’t take the time or a small amount of people don’t care. I think it’s probably just ignorance because people have not gotten themselves informed.”

The city’s program

The city’s recycling program began in the late 1980s.

Phoenix Public Works Department began putting together a five-year plan expecting the Valley would grapple with growth. The city predicted it would fill two landfills to capacity by the mid-1990s.

Phoenix officials decided to deal with solid-waste management by promoting the three “R’s” — reduce, reuse, recycle.

Phoenix collects 1.25 billion pounds of garbage annually, enough to fill Chase Field seven times. And it recycles 120,000 tons. every year.

Phoenix now picks up recycling and garbage on the same day — a recent change — for its 400,000 households.

The contents of the blue bins end up at one of two transfer stations: the North Gateway Transfer Station, 30205 N. Black Canyon Highway, or the 27th Avenue Transfer Station, 3060 S. 27th Ave.

At North Gateway Transfer Station, operated by ReCommunity, workers operate machines that sort and bale recycled items.

Gellenbeck said Re-Community finds the buyers for recycled items. If, for example, the company sells recycled paper to China, it could be reused as a shoe box.

“They cut us a check of 90 percent of the material, and (the city) receive 10 percent,” he said of the company. “If we put the right things into the blue barrels, we get the best price for the materials.”

The center processes 250 tons of materials per day, according to Alvarez.

How it works

On one recent morning, a truck pulled into the station and dumped the morning collection.

Out tumbled heaps of empty boxes that once contained diapers, fruit, cereal, beer or pizza. The load also contained air filters, aluminum cans, glass jars and plastic-grocery bags.

A front loader placed heaps of the materials on a conveyor belt as the sorting process started. Workers stood on the side of the machine and manually caught plastic bags, but some whizzed by.

Down the line, a machine with rollers sorted paper by size. Its enemy: plastic bags.

“What happens is we have these bars that spin, and there’s rubber wheels on them, well, the plastic bags get wrapped around the rubber wheels,” Alvarez said. “In between the wheels, there are open slots that bottles and cans are supposed to fall through but the plastic bags get wrapped up and it jams those holes and close them up and the materials don’t get sorted properly.”

The plastic bags brought the machine to a grinding halt, and workers fixed the machine by pulling out plastic bags. This happens two to four times per day, creating a 15-minute shutdown each time, Gellenbeck said.

This stoppage of workers costs about $1 million per year at both transfer stations, city officials say.

The solution

If people take the bags to the grocery store, they are clean and are perfect for recycling, said Stephanie Ribodal Romero, Phoenix spokeswoman.

The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, an advocacy group for the state’s food industry, began a partnership with Phoenix in 2007, placing Bag Central Station recycle bins in its member stores. The intent is to encourage the recycling of plastic bags and to reduce their use.

The city has promoted the program at large community gatherings or at schools.

“We believe kids have a lot of influence on parents,” Romero said.



Entry Filed under: Arizona,Blog,Environment

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