Paper and Plastic

It's the familiar question heard in grocery stores everywhere: “Paper or plastic?” But when it comes to reducing the waste stream, those involved in solid waste have stopped asking themselves that question. They're going after both.

In January, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a plastic bag recycling program into law. The program requires retail stores with more than 5,000 square feet of space, or five or more store location within the city, to provide a plastic bag recycling container in each store. City officials estimate that the program will divert approximately 90,000 tons of plastic bags from New York's waste stream annually.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, the Board of Supervisors for Los Angeles County, Calif., recently voted unanimously to adopt a regulation requiring a 30 percent reduction in single-use plastic bags at large supermarkets and retail stores by 2010 and a 65 percent reduction by 2013. [For more on these two new laws, see “Nipping It in the Bag” on p. 6.]

But not all of the eco-friendly efforts are being conducted by local governments. For instance, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Republic Services recently announced that, as permitted by the Securities and Exchange Commission's Notice and Access Rule, it will make proxy materials available to shareholders available via the Internet. Now, instead of mailing the material to shareholders, the firm will simply send them a “Notice of Internet Availability of Proxy Materials.”

“The effort fits nicely with the company's overall sustainability initiatives,” said Tod Holmes, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Republic, in a statement. “We've been doing more and more interaction through the Web for a long period of time. Additionally, from a pure financial perspective, we will be able to drive down our overall printing and distribution costs.”

The firm estimates the initiative will allow it to save more than 3 million pieces of paper a year.

Perhaps nowhere are Americans' wasteful habits more on display than in their copious consumption and thoughtless disposal of plastic grocery bags and paper (I include myself firmly in that criticism). As environmental awareness stops being an abstract concept and starts making inroads into our daily lives, efforts such as those described above should be applauded and supported.

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The author is the editor of Waste Age