R.I. Stores Pitch in to First Statewide Plastic Bag Recycling Effort

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island has become the first state in the Union to launch a collection and recycling program for plastic grocery bags, and supermarkets are prominent players in the initiative. The program, known as "ReStore" and introduced at the start of Labor Day weekend, is free for both consumers and the 61 stores around the state that feature the effort's blue collection barrels.

The retailers taking part in ReStore are Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Shaw's Supermarkets, Dave's Marketplace, A & J Seabra, Eastside Marketplace, Belmont Market, Carcieri's Market, Shore's Fresh Food Market, Clements' Marketplace, Tom's Market, Brigido's IGA Marketplace, Dunn's Corners Market, Dino's Park n' Shop, and Andreoni's Market.

The project was created in collaboration with area grocery stores by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. (RIRRC), a quasi-public agency that manages the state's solid waste. All of the markets, which range from large national chain stores to multi- and single-store independents and are members of the Rhode Island Food Dealers Association (RIFDA), endorsed the recycling effort and promoted their participation in the program.

Plastic bags have been viewed as a nonrenewable resource that's normally used once and then thrown away, causing problems for the environment around the globe, according to the organizations. Some countries, among them Taiwan and Bangladesh, have banned them outright; while Ireland, Switzerland, South Africa, Denmark, and Australia have imposed a tax on shoppers who ask for plastic bags in stores. Last year, San Francisco attempted to introduce a 17-cent tax to retailers giving out free bags to customers, but the effort was unsuccessful.

"Here in Rhode Island we have adopted the best business practice -- cooperation," noted RIRRC executive director Sherry A. Mulhearn. "When we approached the Rhode Island Food Dealers Association and asked them to work with us on finding a solution to the burgeoning plastic bag problem, they very enthusiastically consented to help. By working with each other, we arrived at a viable solution that doesn't hurt the business community or the consumer, and helps create jobs in the plastics collection and recycling industry. There are no drawbacks, and we all win."

"Recycling plastic bags is an environmental stewardship that we wholeheartedly support," added RIFDA president and c.e.o. Anita San Antonio. "We know consumers and markets prefer them over other types of bags, and we should all share the responsibility for ensuring that they are disposed of properly."

All plastic bags will be eligible for recycling: Consumers can recycle plastic newspaper sleeves, dry cleaner bags, and produce baggies, among other types of plastic film. The participating stores can combine pallet plastic wrappings with the consumer bags, saving additional disposal costs. Additionally, shoppers' returning bags to grocery stores will get rid of expensive litter cleanup fees and government fines.

Collected material will be sent by truck from stores to the Packaging and More, Inc. facility in Central Falls, R.I., and then on to RIRRC's Materials Recycling Facility in Johnston, where they will be baled and sold to a plastic film remanufacturer. At the recycling facility, the bags will be made into new plastic film.

According to a 2004 RIRRC survey, 95 percent of Rhode Island households use plastic bags, adding up to 192 million grocery bags annually. Almost all of those bags end up at the state's Central Landfill. Since their introduction in 1977, plastic bags have come to account for four out of every five bags distributed at grocery stores. On a national basis, just 1 percent of plastic film is recycled.

ReStore isn't the Rhode Island grocery industry's only foray into ecological initiatives, however. The RIFDA's San Antonio told Progressive Grocer that in addition to its activities with the RIRRC, the association has been a member of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's Litter Task Force for the past three years.

Additionally, some retailers already had their own plastic film recycling programs, such as Albertons-owned Shaw's, which has had a grocery bag and pallet plastic wrapping initiative for over a decade. This year the West Bridgewater, Mass.-based retailer, which operates 200-plus stores in six New England states, will recycle 1.3 million pounds of plastic film companywide.

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