Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Only Store That Offers Plastic-Bag Recycling: Wal-mart

By now, it's clear there are no facilities in Indiana that will recycle our plastic bags. Susan O'Brien (Account Manager of Waste Management) was the first person to give me the news.

The question, according to Susan, was to call the local grocery stores and ask them where plastic bags are transported for recycling. So, I took her advice and made a few calls. This is what I found out:

Kroger's used to offer plastic-bag recycling, but that service was discontinued eight years ago. Why? Well, recycling these plastic bags became an expense. It simply cost too much to transport the bags for recycling. So they quit offering the service.

Martin's also used to offer plastic-bag recycling. But this service was discontinued when the LaPorte Mill shut down in 2001. After the LaPorte Mill closed, the nearest facility was in Chicago, and they simply couldn't afford to pay the transportation costs. So, they also stopped accepting plastic bags for recycling.

But take note: Martin's offers a .03 cent credit to anyone that reuses their old plastic bags (or cloth bags). Of course, if you're like me, that means you're bound to forget to bring your old bags with you to the store! So here's a challenge: After you're done reading this blog, grab a handful of your plastic bags, and put them in your car. That way, the next time you're at the grocery store, you'll be prepared to bring your bags with you.

Now, when speaking to the store manager of Martin's, I discovered there is one store that offers plastic bag recycling. Which store? He didn't want to name any names, but I thought I heard him mutter, "Wal-Mart". That piqued my interest--I had to call!

So, I called Wal-Mart. Long story short, I had to call 1-800 Wal-mart to ask where they ship their plastic bags for recycling. And then I had to wait three days for their answer--but I did receive a call from them. And this is what I found out:

Each week, a semi-truck picks up plastic bags and other recyclables at Wal-Mart. Those materials get shipped to Bentonville, Arkansas (that's where the Wal-Mart headquarters is located). There's a mill in Bentonville that recycles plastic bags into patio furniture and chairs. Wowza! What a revelation!

So, folks, Wal-Mart is the only store in South Bend that offers plastic-bag recycling. And those plastic bags get transported down south to Bentonville, Arkansas. It's not exactly nearby, and it's certainly not cheap!

As a brief aside, I wonder how much gas money is spent to haul these plastic bags to Bentonville, AK. (How much money does it cost to fill up a semi-truck, anyway?)

Oh! Now that you've finished reading this blog, don't forget the challenge!


Zemfira said...

Walmart is the good guy here?!! Well, except for the fact that semitrailers get between 4.7 and 8.5 MPG of gas. I wonder how much profit WM is getting from its patio furniture. My bet is that the company is not in this recycling game because it is environmentally (or socially) concerned. What does surprise me as that as far as I can tell, it hasn't tried to play this bag recycling thing up. I mean, WM has been hit hard by accusations of labor exploitation so why not try to boost its image by beaming this recycling program far and wide?!

Bob C. said...

I worked at Walmart for 5 years and one of me jobs was to take the recycle bags from the front of the store and throw them in the trash compactor. I quit about 3 years ago so I don't know if this is still the procedure. When I asked managers about this they told me that the recyclers didn't want the bags because of the blue die that was used. I saw the same thing happen at other stores I visited. I don't know if it just this area but I don't waste my time taking my bags back. I try to reuse them as trash bags in my car and in small trash cans around the house instead.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I've often wondered if the places that take plastic bags really do recycle them -- or is it just a ploy to fool recyclers like myself into believing that we are doing a good thing for the environment....and since we are there at the recycling place, maybe we will buy something before we leave. I try to remember to do the canvas bag thing (I'm getting better!) and I never use a bag if I am only buying a few items, but I still end up with bags!

Michelle Verges said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for your comment - it reminds me of how this project began by me calling all the recycling centers in my area to verify who recycles those darn plastic bags.

I'll tell you why these stores really do recycle those plastic bags: profit.

Just last year, each Wal-Mart store in my area earned $10 million in profit for recycling plastic bags.

The reason why they made so much money is largely due to the price of oil. Because the value of oil has risen, so has the value of those plastic bags. (Plastic bags are made from crude oil.)

It used to be the case that plastic-bag recyclers got .05 cents for every pound of plastic bags they recycled. Now, that price has tripled. I know a recycler in Salt Lake City who can get .15 to .22 cents for every pound of plastic bags.

And realize how many bags they can generate. In just two weeks, this recycler can obtain 2 million pounds of plastic bags.

That's over $300,000 in just two weeks! Yah, these companies are definitely recycling those bags.

That's why I believe we can't separate economics from the environmental equation. Sure, people feel good for recycling, but let's face it - these stores are not merely in it to feel good. You've got to consider the money factor.


janatee said...

I'm the recycling coordinator at a community college in Texas (Lone Star College in Houston). We have partnered with our local park and we collect the bags here. They are rolled and sent to Envirobag, wehre they are recycled into trash bags. This process doesn't contribute much to the carbon footprint since the bags are shipped by existing modes of transportation. Here is the website for Envirobag. Click on the "School Recycling Program". I don't think that you have to be a school (obviously the park isn't) and you don't have to partner with a certain grocery store. We collect bags from everybody.

Michelle Verges said...


Thanks for leaving a comment on the blog. I'm so encouraged to know that Lone Star College is taking action to recycle plastic bags and whatnot on campus.

I'll have to check-out that envirobag site, too. Thanks for sharing the link and best wishes in Houston!


Anonymous said...

The Baker's (Kroger) in my area has a plastic bag recycling program.

Anonymous said...

Please consider my thoughts with a grain of thought, or at best hear-say...

With a number of friends in an retired from WalMart in Bentonville I understand that those trucks that carry the bags back to Arkansas are heading back empty anyway. After they unload, they return to get another load to take out. I was told (here is where the hear-say comes in) that WalMart was looking for things to do with those empty trucks returning to Bentonville and the recycle of bags is one of the programs they do to make the return trip pay a little more. It is a long trip, but it is being made whether the bags are on there or not and the bags are very light, not adding much to fuel costs.

All in all, considering the oil they are saving in making new plastic, I think it is great!

Anonymous said...

Just so everyone is clear, plastic is made from chemicals that originate in crude oil. If you tried to take a barrel of crude oil and make bags out of it without some refining, it wouldn't happen. First they take out the octane and related chemicals for gasoline. Then they make the thick portion into asphalt and so on. There are lighter fractions for solvents and so on. Somewhere in there are the chemicals that are used in plastic. A Chemical Engineer.

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Anonymous said...

Did you ever consider that those trailer truck have to return to pick up more merchandise in order to bring it back to the Wal-Mart stores? Let's think about the fact the trailer trucks don't just travel in one direction.

Party Bags said...

Wal-Mart's operations are organized. Wal-Mart's business model is based on selling a wide variety of general merchandise at "always low prices".

Waste Service said...

Great post! When I read your article, I really agree with you about this. I hope you will share more with us. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am thinking of taking plastic bags and showing the kids at my high school how to braid them into more durable totes. I do reuse each bag for trash as well. Enjoyed reading the posts.

Lincolnshire Recycling said...

Great post, have got to say when i was in the states i could have gone to walmart everyday loved it.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't using grocery bags for your trash still put them in the landfill? It just takes a little longer to get there.

Viagra said...

I wasn't aware of the fact that not all stores do this!

waxfalcon said...

Sometimes Walmart unrespects their own reusable bags policy, as you can see here:

hilton hotels houston tx said...

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Elliott Broidy said...

I suppose I had not thought about this before.