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Leffingwell says recycling cuts discarded plastic bags by half

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 by Austin Monitor

A voluntary recycling program has cut the number of plastic bags heading to the city’s landfill in half, Council Member Lee Leffingwell said Tuesday. “Our goal by mid-2009 was to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the number of bags going to our landfill. That obviously is a combination of efforts,” Leffingwell told those gathered for a news conference. “Giving out fewer bags…coupled with the number of bags used but returned…those two figures in combination result in a little over 51 percent reduction, and we’ve still got over six months to go,” Leffingwell said.


The voluntary program is attracting participation from some of the city’s largest retail chains, including HEB, Wal-Mart, Target, Randall’s, and Walgreens. “This Austin effort is unique in the country, and we believe it is grounded in the recognition that our best solutions are achieved when we work together to change our collective behavior as retailers, as consumers, and as a city,” said Ronnie Volkening, president of the Texas Retailers Association. “We are very encouraged by the results. We think these results are a very promising initial step. In the coming months, we’re going to continue to work together.”


In addition to providing facilities for customers to recycle plastic bags, many participating stores are also encouraging shoppers to carry their own reusable bags. That is also the focus of a campaign by Keep Austin Beautiful. The organization solicited designs for reusable cloth shopping bags and has given away more than 1,000 cloth bags. “The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in just four trips to the grocery store,” said Brian Block with Keep Austin Beautiful. “Each reusable bag can eliminate the need for 1,000 disposable plastic bags over its lifetime.”


The city’s Solid Waste Services Department will continue to work with retailers to keep plastic bags from the landfill. “Reducing the number of bags going to the landfill is a great goal,” said Solid Waste Services Department Director Willie Rhodes. “This campaign is just one of the many ways the city is working toward a Zero Waste plan.”


Tuesday’s announcement highlights efforts by the city, retailers and Keep Austin Beautiful over the first six months of 2008. The bigger question will be whether the consumers adjust to carrying their own reusable bags over the long haul. The next report—expected in early 2009—will indicate usage for the final months of this year.

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