On November 15, America Recycles Day, the United States Army Reserve will reinforce its commitment to recycling.
Recycling reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by diverting materials from landfills and reducing the production of new goods. Recycling conserves energy and water, because manufacturing products from recycled materials consumes less energy and water than manufacturing products from raw materials. Recycling also conserves Earth's natural resources by reusing existing materials over and over again to produce new products.
This year's America Recycles Day focus is on a commonly used item: the plastic shopping bag. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags each year. Less than five percent of these bags are recycled.
Plastic bags are considered the most common source of contamination in municipal curbside recycling programs. Many people assume that these bags belong in their regular recycle bins, along with plastic bottles. However, recycling facilities process plastic bags differently from other plastics. While they should be recycled, plastic bags should be collected separately from curbside bins. Bags can create major problems if they tangle in sorting machinery, causing delays in processing and costly repairs.
Plastic bags also create many environmental and economic concerns. Plastics never biodegrade. They only photodegrade into smaller bits. Plastic bags are a leading source of litter. Since they are so lightweight, they can take flight on a windy day and end up in tree branches, on roadways and in bodies of water. Plastics are in all five of the world's major ocean currents, with as much as 100 million tons now polluting North Pacific waters alone. Plastics can harm fish and wildlife who often misidentify plastics as food and ingest them. Plastic bags cost municipalities millions of taxpayer dollars in sewer maintenance and recycling facility repair. Plastic bags are also a nuisance in rural communities, where they can be ensnared in farm equipment and fencing.
A number of state and local laws are related to plastic bags. Cities, counties and countries around the world are implementing bag fees, taxes and bans to address the problem, and some have mandated that retailers who distribute plastic bags must accept them for recycling.
Fortunately, you can drop off your plastic bags and plastic film at many of your local supermarkets or retail stores for recycling. Plastic film -- such as produce bags, dry cleaning bags and case wrappers -- can be recycled with plastic bags.
Plastics can be recycled into many useful products. Manufacturers recycle plastic films into composite lumber for decks, benches and playground sets, and they can reprocess them into small pellets for new plastic bags, pallets, containers, crates and pipes.
The Army Reserve is committed to its role as a responsible, knowledgeable partner in the communities we serve. As America strives to preserve and protect its natural resources, the Army Reserve also strives to protect our precious and finite assets. Be a recycle champion! Recycle right. Recycle more.
For more information about recycling plastic bags and film, visit facebook.com/SustainableUSAR and Twitter @SustainableUSAR with #AmericaRecyclesDay and #ArmyReserveRecycles.
Colonel Marshall D. Banks
Director, Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate
Office of the Chief of Army Reserve