Executive petitions for Calif. bag program

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Stripes2Stripes's founder wants California's waste management board to use his program as the basis for a statewide recycling program. His petition comes less than eight months after the board said his plan could ``confuse the public.''

Stephen Joseph, founder and chief executive officer of Stripes2Stripes, petitioned the California Integrated Waste Management Board Feb. 4.

His request comes as the state presses for improvement in the recycling rate for plastic T-shirt bags:

* Earlier this month, Los Angeles County set a goal to recycle 30 percent of plastic grocery bags by 2010 and 65 percent by 2013, if the industry wants to avoid a ban.

* Similarly, California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, has proposed to amend existing state law to prevent stores from distributing plastic bags unless they reduce and recycle the amount of plastic bags by 35 percent by the end of 2010 and 70 percent by the end of 2012.

``You can't maximize plastic bag recycling without curbside recycling,'' Joseph said in a telephone interview from his office in Tiburon, Calif.

Joseph estimated 90 percent of all plastic bags in California go into landfills, between 2-4 percent are recycled in at-store containers, another 4-8 through curbside recycling and less than 1 percent through a program started three years ago by Hilex Poly Co. LLC of Hartsville, S.C., in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., that now includes four neighboring cities.

Under his concept, recyclable plastic bags would have three stripes in the lower right-hand with the program's logo. Consumers could collect the bags and place them inside a larger Stripes2Stripes plastic recycling bag, with similar identification. The recycling bags would hold as many as 200 bags and could be collected with other recyclable materials.

Joseph has financial support from plastic bag manufacturers Hilex and Command Packaging of Vernon, Calif., and plastic bag distributor Elkay Plastics Co. Inc. of Commerce, Calif.

But that didn't stop Joseph from chastising the industry, even as he petitioned the board and called a meeting of all parties - including bag makers, recyclers, recycling equipment manufacturers and materials-recovery facilities.

``I have never gotten involved in an industry so lacking in leadership as this one,'' said Joseph who in 2003 organized a nationwide effort to ban trans fats in foods. ``This industry has gotten so used to not being represented by a competent trade organization that it has hypnotized itself and convinced itself it is doing the right thing.''

Keith Christman, senior director of packaging for the American Chemistry Council's plastics division, said the ACC would not endorse the petition.

``We do not think you should mandate any particular approach,'' said Christman. ``We think communities should look at what's best for them.

``We encourage both curbside recycling and in-store recycling, but in-store recycling is the preferred route because of the quality of the material. It is very clean.''

Joseph added: ``This industry needs to be better organized, fight for what it believes in, and address the problems instead of saying that it is the environmental activist's fault. But they would rather just do public relations and feel good exercises.''

Joseph asked CIWMB to call a stakeholders meeting by June.

``The plastics bag industry has no control over the handling of waste and cannot implement curbside recycling without government cooperation,'' Joseph said. ``I want to get everyone to sit down and talk to each other.''

In his petition, Joseph estimated conservatively that the average bag weighs 0.15 ounces and that the average household would deposit 1,000 bags - the equivalent of 2.7 per day - in the recycling bags annually. That's 50 million plastic bags per 50,000 households that would weigh approximately 468,750 pounds, or 234 tons. Based on a price of 10 cents/pound, the MRF profit for every 234 tons of bags would be $31,145. At 20 cents/pounds, the profit would be $78,020, he said.

``It is high time that the board and representatives of all of the stakeholders met with each other and exchanged ideas on the curbside recycling of plastic bags,'' said Joseph in his petition. ``The board cannot possibly make an informed decision about the curbside recycling of plastic bags or Stripes2Stripes in the absence of such a meeting of the stakeholders.''