Greensboro, N.C., officials, teaming up with the Kroger supermarket chain, recently im-plemented a public information campaign to better inform residents on how to recycle plastic grocery bags. The city's plight is common - plastic grocery bags may be popular among consumers, but they can cause problems for municipal recyclers when the bags are not intended to be part of the collection program.
``The message we're trying to get across is, if you want to recycle plastic grocery bags, take them to the local grocery stores. Under no circumstances should they be put in the recycling containers,'' said Wayne Turner, Greensboro recycling coordinator.
Plastic bags are not included in the city's recycling program so as not to duplicate the efforts of grocery stores, most of which already have recycling programs in place, Turner said.
The bags pose a problem because they get caught in machinery and bog down sorting operations at the Greensboro recycling facility, which is privately owned by FCR Inc. of Charlotte.
The bags slip by during the collection process because the city uses a fully automated truck to collect commingled recyclables from a covered, 90-gallon roll-out container residents place at the curb.
Many residents likely have been putting the plastic grocery bags in the containers for two reasons - either they store their recyclables in plastic bags during the week and fail to empty them into the container, or they simply do not realize the bags are not recycled through the city's program, Turner said.
Plastic bags have been coming into the facility since the program began in 1993. The problem worsened as more people recycled, leading to the public information campaign that began in February.
Solid-waste inspectors focused their efforts on examining containers and talking with residents when plastic bags were found. The local newspaper wrote a story about the issue, and information was published in a newsletter mailed to residents.
Probably the largest part of the campaign was a series of advertisements that aired on five local radio stations - Greensboro and the Kroger supermarket chain split the $10,000 cost for the air time.
``We're hoping all this will have a positive impact,'' said Turner, adding that it appears the amount of bags coming into the facility has decreased. ``I think it's had an impact, and we hope to quantify that within the next six weeks.''
Kroger, which has run a bag-recycling program since 1990, has noticed a difference as well.
``We've seen some indication that the volume of plastic bags returned to the stores has increased,'' said Ed Callis, Kroger's manager of store operation services for the mid-Atlantic marketing area.
The collection of most plastic bags takes place at supermarkets, dry cleaners and other retail establishments and is coordinated by the bag manufacturers or handled by local processors, said Nannette Kirsch, spokeswoman for the Plastic Bag Association, whose members are manufacturers and suppliers in the plastic bag industry.
The Plastic Bag Information Clearinghouse, a program offered by the association, provides consumers with information on how and where to recycle plastic bags.