According to a recent article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, what looks like snow on first glance atop a hill in Wilder Ranch State Park is actually a blanket of plastic retail bags. This hill is not far from the Santa Cruz landfill and the Resource Recovery Facility from where the lightweight bags can drift. This is a perfect example of how even properly disposed of plastic bags oftentimes end up in the environment.
The city’s recycling trucks pick up plastic bags daily from restaurant take-out and out-of-town grocery stores to trail mix and bread bags, mixed in with customers’ printer paper, cardboard boxes, plastic and glass bottles and tin cans. There are many opportunities for the bags to slip out both in transit and once at the facility, drifting to the property’s perimeter and pushing up against its fences and into adjacent trees. Resource Recovery Facility superintendent Craig Pearson assigns three to five employees to do perimeter bag searches each morning. “What you’ll see in the recycling center is how many plastic bags are coming through. And they don’t go where you want them to. They go in the paper. They go into the cardboard. They go everywhere,” Pearson said. “Even with five people up there, six people, I can’t keep up with all the plastic.”
Recycling of plastic bags brings the city less than $1,000 in annual revenue, said city Public Works spokeswoman Janice Bisgaard. Additionally, effective plastic bag recycling is an industrywide problem, with issues ranging from contaminating sorted materials to gumming up sorting machinery and blowing away, city officials said.
“It’s always been the same. For us to be able to hand sort millions of single tiny little plastic bags, it’s just impossible,” said city Waste Reduction Manager Mary Simmons. “Wind-blown single plastic bags are a really big issue.” Although city officials were unable to quantify the issue, they said grocery and retail store plastic bags, some of the ubiquitous sources of the product, have dropped off significantly since Santa Cruz’s April 2013 enactment of a carry-out retail plastic bag ban.
144 cities and counties throughout California have already banned single-use plastic bags, many of them with a charge on paper bags and reusables to offset the greater cost and reduce bag use in general. CAW worked hard to help get SB 270, a statewide plastic bag ban, passed that was immediately thwarted by out-of-state bag manufacturers who paid millions to get a referendum put on the November 2016 ballot for voters to decide it's fate. Now we are working hard to make sure it's upheld.
What can you do to help? Phase out your personal use of plastic bags by bringing your own to the store. Spread the word to VOTE YES to uphold the bag ban in November 2016. Endorse our campaign here. You can learn more about the referendum and the problem with plastic bags here.