Millbrae aims to ‘curb’ plastic bags 

Less than two months after Millbrae became the first city in San Mateo County to ban Styrofoam, city leaders intend to be the first in the county to provide curbside recycling for another pesky environmental hazard.

Mayor Gina Papan said she is fed up with plastic bags. The bags, which Papan said are light, difficult to sort and tend to fly away easily, are major sources of litter, become stuck in storm drains and harm marine life in the San Francisco Bay, Millbrae Recycling Coordinator Shelly Reider said.

As the city prepares to renegotiate with garbage contractor South San Francisco Scavenger, Papan said she would make sure a curbside recycling program would be part of the new waste contract, which would start in March 2009.

"If any city in San Mateo County is going to do that, it would be Millbrae," said Tina King, education and outreach director for Sustainable San Mateo County.

Scavenger President Doug Button and city officials such as Reider and Public Works Director Ron Popp expressed optimism about the idea when Papan proposed it at a recent City Council meeting.

The recycling program would be relatively simple. Scavenger would collect the bags during weekly recycling pickups. Residents could tie all bags inside one bag to keep them from floating away.

The bags would then be melted down, shredded and remanufactured to form new products such as road curbing material, plastic benches or a wood and plastic material called Trex that can be used for decks and flooring.

The only factor that could prevent a curbside recycling program would be a shortage of demand for the materials made from the bags, Reider said.

Grocery stores in Millbrae such as Safeway and Lucky take back and recycle plastic bags, as required by a July 2007 California law. The city of 22,000 also has distributed nearly 3,500 reusable cloth shopping bags made from recycled plastic bottles.

"We’re trying to encourage not using plastic bags at all," Papan said. "They’re a huge danger to our environment that I’m deeply concerned about. They have been ending up in the stomachs of mammals."

Millbrae leaders have looked into the feasibility of banning the bags but have decided that distributing the cloth bags was a more viable alternative, she said.

Reider will unveil Millbrae’s 2008 list of sustainable programs on Feb. 26. Last year’s achievements included the Styrofoam ban and rebates for residents installing solar panels.

After plastic bags, Papan said she would like to see the city increase recycling of LCD light bulbs and expand its cogeneration plant to include recycling of residential grease.

mrosenberg@examiner.com  

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