Happy Earth Day! Businesses Ignore Plastic Bag Recycling Law

By Test Reporter on April 22, 2010 9:11am | Updated on April 22, 2010 7:55am

Duane Reade was one of the few Midtown chains that had a plastic bag recycling bin on display when DNAinfo visited Wednesday.
Duane Reade was one of the few Midtown chains that had a plastic bag recycling bin on display when DNAinfo visited Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

By Olivia Scheck

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Manhattanites might be surprised to learn this Earth Day that many retailers required to accept and recycle plastic bags actually aren't.

By law, certain stores that provide plastic bags must display a bin where shoppers can return them to be recycled. DNAinfo visited several stores in Morningside Heights and Midtown on Wednesday and found that many applicable retailers have apparently ignored the law.

Employees at Rite Aid, Radio Shack and American Apparel locations in Morningside Heights all said that they did not collect plastics bags from consumers for recycling.

The Mortin Williams Supermarket on West 57th Street did not offer plastic bag recycling either, employees said, while the workers at a Walgreens in Times Square said that a box, which had been used to collect recycled bags last year, was now missing.

The New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Law, which went into effect last year applies to all stores with more than 10,000 square feet or at least five locations with more than 5,000 square feet. The legislation also requires stores to hire private contractors to process the bags, since the city’s Department of Sanitation does not collect plastic bags or other types of “film” plastics for recycling.

While there hasn't been a formal study of the law's effectiveness yet, anecdotal evidence "suggests that it's had a very mild impact," said Eric Goldstein of the National Resources Defense Council.

“We haven’t yet found enough of an incentive to get most of us to participate in the program,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein pointed to the success of a Washington, D.C., program which taxed consumers 5-cents for every plastic bag they received with a purchase.

Only one month after the D.C. tax was levied, an early estimate suggested that the issuing of plastic bags had decreased by 87 percent, according to The Washington Post.

“It was an appropriate first step or test,” Goldstein said of New York’s plastic bag reduction law.  “But it's likely that both the city and the state will have to revisit this issue.”

The GAP store on West 57th Street had a plastic bag recycling bin on display, as is required by state law.
The GAP store on West 57th Street had a plastic bag recycling bin on display, as is required by state law.
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DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

Residents who are determined to find a home for their unwanted plastic bags might have better luck at their local Duane Reade. Three of the chain’s Midtown locations had bins for plastic bag recycling during DNAinfo's recent survey, as did a nearby GAP.

Still, the presence of drop-off bins does not mean that residents will take advantage of them, as evidenced Wednesday afternoon by an empty GAP bag that floated in the breeze outside the chain's 57th Street location.

Although the GAP store on West 57th Street provided a bin where residents could recycle their old plastic bags, a discarded GAP bag floated along the sidewalk outside Wednesday afternoon.
Although the GAP store on West 57th Street provided a bin where residents could recycle their old plastic bags, a discarded GAP bag floated along the sidewalk outside Wednesday afternoon.
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DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

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