Friday, January 19, 2007

First Stop: Salt Lake City

When I first contacted Wal-mart in August, they told me that plastic bags are sent to Bentonville, Arkansas for recycling. Not necessarily, as I've recently discovered. The journey is much richer than I imagined. South Bend Wal-mart stores ship our plastic bags in "plastic-sandwich bales" to Rocky Mountain Recycling, located in Salt Lake City, UT. According to Google Maps, that's a 1,481 mile journey, which would take us about 21 hours and 52 minutes to reach this destination from IU South Bend.

At this point, the vast majority of bags are sold to two domestic companies. In particular, Trex purchases these grocery bags to make composite lumber for decking and benches. Once "recycled" into these products, they are sold to Home-Depot and Lowes for the retail market. The rest of the plastic bags are recycled into new grocery bags, heavy-duty garbage bags, black plastic tarps for young plants, straw for planter beds, storage bins, tool boxes, and molded patio furniture. And a small portion of our bags goes to China for manufacturing.

Of course, this information raises more questions: How many pounds of plastic bags are packed into a semi-truck? How much gas does it take for a semi to travel to Salt Lake City? What is the cost of purchasing these bags from Rocky Mountain Recycling? Does the value of plastic bags change based on fluctuating oil prices? By asking these questions, two underlying issues now emerge: business and economics. But for now, let's focus on this moment. Our plastic bags go to Salt Lake City, Utah!!

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