Changing Behavior One Bag at a Time
Down with plastic bags!
Can you reduce or eliminate your use of disposable bags? That's what a coalition of local organizations is asking folks to do as part of the Austin's Got a Brand New Bag campaign. And if you show up to their funky kickoff event this Saturday, April 5, 12:30-2:30pm, at Waterloo Park, they'll get you started with a free reusable bag in exchange for surrendering five plastic shopping sacks to be recycled. The bag reformers are led by nonprofit Keep Austin Beautiful and include the city's Solid Waste Services department; the Texas Retailers Association, along with retailers HEB, Randalls, Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Whole Foods; and Trex, which manufactures decking products from recycled plastic bags and sawdust.
"We're hoping to provide the resources, education, and inspiration for a shift in Austin from the use of mainly disposable bags to mainly reusable bags," said Keep Austin Beautiful Executive Director Brian Block. KAB estimates that each reusable bag eliminates the need for 1,000 plastic bags and 500 paper bags over its lifetime.
An estimated 91 billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. each year, and only 3% are recycled. The rest end up in landfills, or worse, blighting nature, choking wildlife, and inciting floods by clogging sewers. The city of Austin doesn't currently accept plastic bags with curbside recycling, but by mid-April, they plan to launch a 5,000-home pilot recycling program.
The bag initiative got started last October when the aforementioned stakeholders agreed to pursue a public awareness campaign in lieu of a council-enacted plastic-bag ban. The campaign hopes to cut bag use by 50% in one year. "I am pleased we have crafted a plan with meaningful environmental goals without needing an ordinance," said City Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who co-sponsored a council resolution last April calling for ways to limit plastic bags and has since politically championed the cause. "We will spend the next year evaluating the program's success, and if we find we haven't made adequate progress toward our goal, we'll have to re-evaluate our approach."
Among retailers, Whole Foods Market has made strides. Last October they gave away 1,000 reusable, 80%-recycled "better bags" and nixed plastic bags locally. By Earth Day, April 22, they expect to go plastic-bag-free nationwide. They and Wheatsville Co-op offer customers a cash credit for bringing a reusable bag. All of the campaign's participating retailers agreed to display reusable bags for sale near checkouts and provide accessible recycling bins where any clean plastic film – such as bags, shrink-wrap, or dry-cleaning sleeves – can be deposited.