Monday, January 19, 2009

New York Finally Recycles (Plastic Grocery Bags)

My subletter moved out and I settled back in to my old apartment last week. I opened the pantry to find a wall of grocery bags packed as tall as me. There were exactly two items in the whole pantry: plastic grocery bags, and an ironing board. I mean, how does that happen in the first place? I've never accumulated that many bags in my whole life, but I turn my back for one semester and you could film a horror movie in there.

All last year I asked around about where you can recycle these bags, and the answer was: You can't. You can recycle most other normal recyclables in New York, but not plastic bags.

It drove me crazy.

Fortunately, New York State recently passed a law requiring certain businesses in New York City to accept plastic bags for recycling starting January 1, 2009. This means that at larger grocery stores or chains there should be a clearly marked bin where you can return all those plastic grocery bags that have been accumulating in dark corners all over your kitchen.

Safeway in the Bay Area has had these bins for years. However, no one ever seemed to know about them, except me. Every month or so I'd take a huge plastic bag stuffed with plastic bags to Safeway, and people would always ask what the hell I was doing.

Anyway, now this brilliant idea has arrived in New York, but a lot of stores still don't have the bins. Stores are supposedly fined $100 a day for not having them, but there's either a grace period for compliance, or $100 a day is less of a burden for stores than figuring out where to get these recycling bins.

I'm happy to report that the Gristede's near me in Washington Heights is on top of their game, and has placed a bin right by the entrance, so now I can go in, dump my bags and not shop there, because their groceries are ridiculously expensive. But kudos to them for the bins.

The Fairway Supermarket on the Upper West Side has a bin, but most of their employees and managers don't even know about it. I finally found one manager who did, and he pointed me upstairs, to their organic food section where there were only about three customers milling about. My friend said to me today, "There's an upstairs at Fairway?" Not a good place for an item that is already so obscure in the consciousness of even the store's employees.

Since there's clearly a publicity and marketing person who's not doing their job on this plastic bag recycling campaign, I'm making it a point to tell everyone about it. (Also, if you'd like to fire that person and replace her/him with me, I do have a marketing background, excellent communication skills, and a fierce hatred of plastic grocery bags that don't get recycled.)

Another part of the problem is that I've only seen these bins with my own eyes in two places in the city. Let's be fair, though, I've only been back in town for a week. I hear that Whole Foods has them, if that's any help. The Rite Aid in my neighborhood doesn't have one, and the employee I asked about it didn't know what the hell I was talking about.

"You're looking for what? Outside. Just go outside."

So good to be back in New York.

If you find a listing of stores in New York that have these bins, send it my way.

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