Recycle that plastic bag or put it over your head


Good news, the city council voted in favor of requiring Madison residents to recycle plastic bags.

Under a new program — which is tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 1 — residents will  be required to collect and drop off clean, recyclable plastic bags at 13 designated collection sites throughout the city or at other businesses that recycle bags.

The program was OK’d by a 17-1 vote at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Plastic bags that are considered recyclable include: grocery and retail bags, bread bags, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, toilet paper bags and paper towel bags. Soiled bags — such as those used to line garbage bins — cannot be recycled, Dreckman said.

Oh snap, we haven’t even talked about the penalties yet:

The penalty for not complying would be $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second and $400 for subsequent violations in a year. However, Dreckman said he did not expect citations would ever be issued for failing to recycle plastic bags.

How ironic. Set a penalty but immediately declare that it will never be applied. Isn’t that kind of like a Bush “signing statement”?

The council hasn’t gone far enough. Plastic bags should be banned at grocery stores and other retailers. Rather, stores should have to apply to get a permit to distribute them. They are a waste and an environmental disaster. The amount of litter created in the area makes this a local issue as well as a national energy affair. If localities take the lead on this issue they can pressure retailers to use paper instead of plastic, reducing billions of gallons of oil consumption, and cleaning up the environment.


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9 Responses to “Recycle that plastic bag or put it over your head”

  1. Sandra Miller Says:


    Just came across your blog and noticed your link to our organization– Common Cause in Wisconsin. We recently launched a more comprehensive local website at

    If you could update the link in your blogroll, we’d really appreciate it.



  2. Jason Smathers Says:

    Oh boy, where’s Gendall and Granias when you need them?

    We had this exact discussion in ed board last year…and it resulted in the most confusing convoluted editorial we’ve ever written.

    Listen, If this were any other major city in the US (other than San Francisco), I would say banning it here would really start something. Instead, we’re Madison, the liberal joke of the midwest that everyone laughs at. If Milwaukee bans plastic bags, that would start a movement. Us doing it just makes everyone look at us and laugh. Even if other countries have been doing it. Remember, we think other countries are backward, quaint or dangerous.

  3. The Sconz Says:

    Smathers, think about what you’re actually writing. Why wouldn’t we ban plastic bags? How could that hurt us? Is it going to drive away business? If we were a city of about 50 people maybe that policy would be enough to deter a business from setting up shop. We are a city of 200 k +, we need grocery stores and they’re not going to leave because they can’t ask people “paper or plastic” anymore. Mid-size cities like Madison can make a difference and they should. Plastic bags are provided for people’s convenience – it’s that simple. But people are going to continue to shop for food either way.

  4. Kristin Czubkowski Says:

    I wrote about this ban when it came to the Board of Estimates (, and I was shocked when I was researching it at how bad paper bags were for the environment, too. Apparently they use a ton of water to produce (as opposed to a ton of oil/chemicals), although paper bags tend to be recycled way more often and are much more biodegradable. It’s something to think about, though, in terms of a total ban — what is the potential effect of that on other resources? Should both types of bags be banned, or can reusable bags be incentivized enough that a ban is unnecessary?

  5. The Sconz Says:

    Kristin, thanks for stopping by! Knowing very little about the paper bag issue, I can only guess that “recycling” is the name of the game – plastic bags are only recycled by individuals. Incentives…that could be interesting. Like a small tax on free bags at grocery stores. Something that would be very small but would push people to get their own bags. A sales tax with an incentive.

  6. Skip Says:

    Most of the plastic in plastic bags comes from natural gas, not oil. Do you ever bother to research anything? And are you willing to push the Council to ban paper bags too because it takes energy to make them and their creation creates pollution as well:

    ~~Plastic bags use 40% less energy to produce and generate 80% less solid waste than paper.
    ~~Paper bags generate 70% more emissions, and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
    ~~Even paper bags made from 100% recycled fiber use more fossil fuels than plastic bags.

    Here’s a post I wrote about the subject:

    And here’s some more recent commentary from a UW lecturer:

  7. Emily Says:

    Still trying to figure out why more people don’t just use canvas and other reusable bags.

    • The Sconz Says:

      Hey Emily,
      I was about to say that people like me generally never “get around” to buying something like a canvas bag, but I see that one has been abandoned by a former roommate, so it looks like I can finally practice what I preach. I think the main issue is simply that most people shop in bulk and don’t want to buy a ton of bags for it.

  8. Nonies Says:

    In response to Emily: I own probably five canvas bags and have the good intention of using them to lug my groceries home…I just always forget them…

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