Plenty of uses for plastic bags

Plastic bags are back. Apparently to stay, since most of them are non-biodegradable. 

Since we’ve got them, what can we do with them in addition to carrying purchases from the store to our homes?

One approach is to reuse and recycle them, while others propose making reusable shopping bags more available to shoppers and retailers.

The Internet is filled with suggestions.  They can be used for storing perishable foods, kept in a vehicle or taken on hikes to collect trash, used as kitty-litter box liners and donated to animal shelters for their use in keeping the neighborhood neat and to local charity and thrift stores.

They can line favorite vases that have developed cracks and as an alternative to Styrofoam peanuts when packaging easily damaged items. 

With ice cubes added, they’re an inexpensive ice bag for aching muscles and they can be used as stuffing for handmade toys and cushions.

Videos on the Internet give directions for cutting plastic bags into long strips to be knitted or crocheted into tote bags and bathmats; transforming them into gift wrap; using them as catch-alls for buttons and pencils and makeup; and filling them with icing and clipping the corner so they can add a finishing touch when frosting cakes.

How to make plastic bags into rope and mats is something the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies does in its presentations on plastic marine debris, said Loretta Brown, special programs coordinator.

The list goes on and on.

Or you can recycle them.

Safeway has a recycle box at the front of the Homer store and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Homer Transfer Site has a tote specifically designated for collecting plastic bags for recycling.

“When that (ballot initiative) passed I sent some emails to the folks backstage to see what we could do to encourage people to continue using reusable bags,” said Bob Malone, manager of Safeway in Homer. 

While those steps haven’t been finalized, Malone said customers are being offered the option of paper or plastic.

“A lot of folks, because of the bag ban, already are bringing in their reusable bags,” he said. “It’s nice to see folks continuing to do that.”

Homer Voice for Business, which supported the bag ban repeal, plans to work with the Homer Chamber of Commerce and businesses to do bulk orders of reusable bags. Chris Story, a local real estate agent and spokesperson for Homer Voice for Business, said there can be solutions to reducing plastic bags without government intervention.

“That can be done through awareness and voluntary participation,” Story said.

Story also suggested putting more trash cans on the Spit Trail so people can collect and deposit plastic trash and offering incentives for shoppers to use reusable bags.

Reusable bags in bulk lots can be purchased for $1-$3, said Derotha Ferraro, a spokesperson for South Peninsula Hospital, who coordinated an order last year of reusable bags given away at the Kachemak Bay Rotary-South Peninsula Hospital Health Fair. Another 500 will be given away this year.

Well into recycling, Malone said Safeway has an agreement with shippers to carry away cardboard the store has baled.

“They use it for making paper bags,” said Malone. “We’ve been doing that for years.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough refers to plastic, including grocery bags, as “plastic film,” said Jack Maryott, director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Solid Waste Department, of plastics hauled to Rock-Tenn Recycling in Anchorage. “It doesn’t have to be just grocery bags. It can be shrink wrap and really anything (plastic) that stretches.”

Some of that plastic can even be recycled into shopping bags. ChicoEco in Chico, Calif., markets reusable polyester fabric bags under the rePETE logo and trademark made with 50-percent post-consumer plastic waste. Chico also makes a reusable bag that can be stuffed in a little pouch, the Chico basic. Organizations can do fundraisers with ChicoEco, said marketing director Sierra Norton. 

The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies sells such a bag or offers them as premiums for wilderness tours, CACS’s Brown said. Other retailers sell the stuffable pouch bags.

With recycling part of the contract between D&L Construction, operator of the transfer site, and the borough, D&L provides the borough with receipts to show the extent of that part of the operation, said Maryott.

For the five years Doug Urbon has worked at the Homer site, he’s chased unsecured plastic bags caught by the wind and made sure they were deposited in the recycling container. He saw the amount of plastic bags decrease following the Homer City Council’s ban and wonders if it will increase following the voters’ Oct. 1 rejection of that ban.

In his half decade at the transfer site, Urbon has had a front-row seat on Homer’s trash-disposal and recycling habits: the No. 1 and No. 2 plastics that aren’t separated; the plastic-coated and Styrofoam-filled cardboard boxes that get dumped in recycling in spite of directions to the contrary; and the 20-gallon container of used oil that was spilled on the floor of the transfer site facility.

The question rising from his observations offers a challenge.

“Everybody is supposed to be so green in Homer, but are they?” asked Urbon.