A Different Approach to Plastic Grocery Bags

I’ve written about a number of different places around the world, from Ireland to San Franscisco, that have attempted to deal with litter and waste produced by plastic grocery bags with a “bag tax.” The state of Rhode Island, though, is taking a different approach to dealing with the 192 million bags used by shoppers in that state every year:

Starting [today, September 2nd], Rhode Islanders who take the trouble to return used plastic shopping bags to their local grocery stores can rest assured they are making a solid contribution to the environment. Very solid.

The stores and the state are collaborating on what appears to be the first statewide program to collect plastic grocery bags and to recycle them – in this case at a very memorable destination.

To assure the bags are recycled usefully, the state has made arrangements to sell them to Trex Co., a fast-growing, Virginia-based firm that combines recycled plastic and wood to make decking and railings sold across the country.

The campaign, dubbed ReStore, begins Friday, with brightly marked blue boxes installed at the front of 61 grocery stores throughout the state.

Apparently, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation considered proposing a tax on the bags, but, according to executive director Sherry Mulhearn:

…the resource recovery commissioners believed it would be wrong to impose a tax without first giving Rhode Islanders an opportunity to try a more cooperative approach. And that meant having her agency work with local markets to initiate a program to collect plastic bags and find some way to get them reused.

“We are the recycling facility, so it was clear we should be doing this,” Mulhearn said.

As we’ve discussed in relation to other issues, taxes are often the first step taken by states and communities; it will be interesting to see if this novel approach by Rhode Island will prove more effective.

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