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Plastic bag backlash: Can recycling programs beat back anti-bag fervor?

North Carolinians are being encouraged to reduce, reuse, and recycle their plastics grocery bags, with the state becoming the fourth in the U.S. to join the "A Bag's Life" recycling education movement. The program helps consumers find the roughly 1200 grocery and retail store drop off sites for plastic bags across North Carolina.

North Carolina retailers and legislators announced the state's involvement in the program on the steps of the legislative building. The awareness campaign includes a website with a zip code locator app and a make-your-own video contest that will begin in the fall.   

The public-private partnership was kicked off by representatives of the state's assembly and senate, as well as the North Carolina Retail Merchants Assn. and Keep North Carolina Beautiful. The groups noted that nationwide, plastic bag recycling is on the rise, with more than 850 million lb recycled in 2009, up 31% since 2005.

Participating state-wide retailers in the program include Food Lion, Harris-Teeter, Ingles, Kroger, Lowe's Foods, Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse, Target, and Wal-Mart. Other states participating in "A Bag's Life" include Virginia, Florida, and Texas.

Hilex Poly (Hartsville, SC), the largest bag manufacturer in North America, recently expanded its bag-recycling plant in North Vernon, IN. At the same time that Hilex originally broke on the recycling facility in the fourth quarter of 2004, it launched its Bag-2-Bag closed loop recycling program, through which consumers can return used plastic bags and other household film waste at retail and grocery stores. Since Hilex Poly began the program, it has placed 30,000 recycling bins in grocery stores across the country.

In spite of these efforts, bag bans and taxes have been put in place all around the world, with more initiated nearly every week. The pushback against bags has prompted the launch of websites with names like The Truth About Plastic Bags and Plastic Bag Ban Report, as well as retail sites promoting reusable bags, like Envirosax and stories entitled Plastic bags are killing us. On the industry side, the American Chemistry Council launched the Progressive Bag Affiliates group, with its own set of "plastic bag facts" to try to quell the ongoing backlash. 

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