Madison recycling coordinator George Dreckmann is helping draft an ordinance to ban plastic bags from the trash stream and urge residents to recycle them at up to 50 drop spots around town.
"It's a different approach. Nobody has tried doing this," Dreckmann says of the ordinance, which he expects will be introduced next month. "Others either ban these bags or mandate that merchants do the recycling." This puts the onus on the pro-recycling public: "We'll see how it's received."
Retailers and grocers have opposed an outright plastic bag ban, like those enacted in some bigger cities including New York and San Francisco. They say this would cause a spike in grocery prices because biodegradable bags for produce and meat are more costly.
But Madison Ald. Judy Compton, the ordinance's main sponsor, thinks it's important to take steps to minimize environmental impact.
"I began this wanting to ban plastic bags and approached several departments, and it was definitely obvious that this would be a very difficult thing to do," Compton says. "So we looked at alternate ways, and one of those ways is the city would collect them."
The average person uses 330 bags a year, which would put Madison's use at about 75 million bags annually. Dreckmann says less than 1% of plastic bags are currently recycled.
Retailers including Pierce's Northside Market, Copps grocery stores and Wal-Mart already collect plastic bags and resell them. Madison's plan would provide for additional drop-off sites where plastic bags can be returned.
"We're looking at whether there's money for the receptacles in contingent reserve," says Compton. "Sooner is better, but if it has to come through the next budget, it will be a year before we can do it."