Published in the Sun December 1, 2012
“Bag the Bag” it’s called; a bright yellow stuffer bag designed to hold plastic bags, six pack rings, cellophane, and other film plastics for Georgetown’s new single stream recycling. When the bag first showed up with my 96 gallon recycling bin I was incredulous. Surely we didn’t have to buy special bags just to recycle other bags? Couldn’t we just stuff all our bags into an old grocery bag? The idea of a special bag just seemed so wrong to me that I made an appointment to speak with Verna Browning, a representative of Texas Disposal Systems, and Rachel Osgood and Gary Hertel from the city of Georgetown to learn the reason for this apparent travesty of sustainability.
It turns out there is method to their madness. Plastic bags cannot be thrown loose into the recycling cart for two good reasons: they fly everywhere on the slightest breeze creating litter, and they jam up the mechanism of the sorting machines. So bags must be bundled together into a package big enough to stay put. Unfortunately, a regular grocery bag filled up with other bags will tear open when it is compacted in the truck, and then you are right back where you started, with loose plastic bags.
The stuffer bags are tough enough to stand up to the collection process. When properly tied shut, tiny perforations in the bottom of the bag allow air to escape so they don’t explode when compacted. Upon arrival at the recycling center, workers can easily recognize the bright yellow bags and pull them off the conveyor before they go into the sorting machine and cause mechanical problems. The yellow stuffer also identifies the bag as recycling. A tied off grocery bag could just as easily be filled with diapers or doggie poo.
My original “Bag the Bag” has been hanging in my kitchen for over a month and it is still not even half full. It now contains 22 bread and newspaper bags, the plastic wrapper from a bundle of paper towels, and some Saran wrap. There are no grocery bags because I have reusable bags for the grocery store, and the few bags I do get line my small trash cans. When it is finally full, new stuffers are available (for free) at the municipal utility office at the corner of Industrial Drive and Leander Road, at the Garden-Ville outlet near the soccer fields on Walden Drive, and at the Sun City Social Center Monitor’s desk. Yes, they are free. The original plan was to charge 25 cents a bag, but apparently citizens were on the verge of mutiny, and in a spirit of cooperation the city decided to absorb the cost.
If you remain skeptical about the yellow bags, you do have alternatives. You can still take grocery bags, bread bags, and newspaper bags back to the grocery store. I went to HEB incognito (which is easy for me) and asked two separate employees who were taking out trash if the grocery bags that get collected actually go to recycling. Both assured me that they really do. Unfortunately the grocery store will not take other kinds of plastic wrappers or cellophane, nor will they take those turtle-strangling six pack rings. Another alternative is just to trash your plastic bags. Recycling is, after all, voluntary. Just remember that whatever goes into your trash bin ends up in the landfill. It does not get diverted to recycling at the dump just because it is recyclable.
Several choices exist for yard waste as well. If you continue to put yard waste in black plastic bags it will go into the landfill, no exceptions, where it uses up space and squanders a valuable resource. If, however, you would prefer your yard waste to be composted and turned into mulch, bundle it into four foot lengths or place it in compostable bags and set it on the curb on your yard waste day. I went to Home Depot to check out the bag situation. Jim Glennan, a Home Depot employee and a recent transplant from the Chicago area, showed me a huge box in the Garden Center where you can get 5 compostable bags for $1.88. He says this time of year they sell like hotcakes. He also pointed out that in Illinois recycling was free but he had to put a sticker costing $2.80 on each and every yard bag or garbage bag that he discarded. He liked that method because he could save money by not throwing anything away. True, but it seems like an awfully pricey sticker to put on a bag of garbage.
For people who really don’t want to buy yard bags, Ms. Osgood suggested using a large generic trash can that looks different from the TDS bins and labeling it “YARD WASTE” in giant letters. Your leaves will be composted au naturel.
For answers to almost any question that you could possibly have about Georgetown’s single stream recycling, go to http://recycle.georgetown.org/.