IOW offers plastic bag recycling to residents

Published 8:05 am Friday, August 7, 2009

ISLE OF WIGHT— After attempts to ban plastic bags altogether didn’t materialize, Isle of Wight County kicked off a pilot program on Wednesday that allows residents to recycle plastic bags at trash convenience centers throughout the county.

“We are the first county in the commonwealth to start a plastic bag recycling program,” said Rachel Chieppa, the county’s rural economic development manager. “Our goal is to eliminate plastic bag litter.”

She said that the county formed an advisory group with the Retail Alliance, a trade organization representing the retail industry, and found that consumer education was a feasible alternative to banning plastic bags.

The program’s costs are being covered by a $28,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

While the $28,000 grant from DEQ covers most of the program’s costs, Chieppa said that some costs, like staff time, are hard to calculate. However, the Retail Alliance gave the county an additional $2,000 for the program.

Chieppa said that the pilot program involves the county’s three most heavily used trash convenience centers, Stave Mill in Windsor, Wrenn’s Mill in Smithfield and Jones Creek in Carrollton as well as Smithfield Square Shopping Center, where the kickoff event was held.

“We hope it will be successful and we’ll be able to continue and expand to the remaining five convenience centers,” she said.

The centers will accept all clear, clean plastic bags, including grocery bags, dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags and even plastic wrapping from toilet paper and paper towels.

When school opens in September, the program will be expanded to include all five of the county’s elementary schools.

Plastic bags and their improper disposal caught the attention of Isle of Wight leaders because of the adverse effects on the county’s cotton fields and livestock. Attempts by state Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, and Delegate William Barlow, D-Smithfield, to ban plastic bags through state legislation have been unsuccessful.

Isle of Wight officials are hopeful that the program will help alleviate litter problems in the county, and state officials are using the county’s program as a model. If it’s successful, it could be expanded to other counties.