At the start of next year, Salt Lake Community College will take over servicing of all the garbage dumpsters on each campus. Meanwhile, a few SLCC students are working to encourage grocery stores and consumers to reduce their usage of plastic shopping bags.
“Salt Lake Community College wants to have a goal of diverting 90 percent of their waste from the landfill,” recycling coordinator Sean Stanton says. “Our department is committed to reducing the college’s waste as much as possible, but this is very much a team effort.”
Fortunately, a few SLCC students are taking that message to heart.
SLCC students Halle Fiagle, Amanda Mabbutt and Mindy Swain are currently working on a project in their English 2010 class that encourages grocery stores to stop using one-time use plastic bags. They are making flyers, brochures and signs, and plan on taking them to local grocery stores to educate owners and shoppers about plastic bags.
“Although one-time use plastic bags may seem inexpensive and convenient to retailers and consumers, the bags are wreaking havoc on our environment,” the students say. “Many countries, states and cities are taking action to create a more sustainable practice.”
Short-term use, long-term complications
The usefulness of a plastic bag lasts only a matter of minutes. Once the bags have served their purpose, they typically end up in the trash.
According to Plastic Bag Statistics, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags per year. That’s 600 bags per person per year.
“Even if the statistics for recycling plastics is artificially high, this is still a poor reflection of our efforts,” Fiagle, Mabbutt and Swain say. “Recycling plastic bags may not be as easy as we think.”
Most curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags, and garbage bags aren’t even acceptable. Items should be placed loose in the recycle container; plastic bags often clog machines at recycling facilities.
The best place to recycle plastic bags is at grocery stores with plastic bag recycling programs. Additionally, you may only recycle clean and dry plastic bags.
“Perhaps, the inconvenience of recycling plastic bags explains why recycling rates are so low,” the students say.
‘A symbol of evironmental wrongdoing’
“The plastic bag has become a symbol of environmental wrongdoing due to its prevalence, disposability, and precious building materials,” Fiagle, Mabbutt and Swain say. “These single-use bags contribute to greenhouse gases; they clog up landfills, litter streets, find their way into rivers and streams, and eventually end up in the ocean.”
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, once plastic makes its way into the ocean, it photo-degrades with sunlight, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that never really disappear. From there it can contribute to gyres, circular current patterns in an ocean basin, like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.
Fiagle, Mabbutt, and Swain feel that “many consumers continue to use plastic bags simply because they are unaware of the impact they have on environment. Some shoppers just need a little help remembering to grab their reusable bags out of their trunks.”
To get a more complete list of recyclables collected at SLCC, email firstname.lastname@example.org.