Opinion: Bags from Target can help solve the plastics problem

Why the new Hefty program is helpful

Staff photo by Olivia Ross  / Orange Hefty EnergyBags sit in a recycling bin at the Warner Park Recycling Center on Monday, November 7, 2022.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Orange Hefty EnergyBags sit in a recycling bin at the Warner Park Recycling Center on Monday, November 7, 2022.

Last week, Chattanoogans came out to experience this year's MainX24 festival and market. All along Main Street, food trucks and small businesses filled the streets and parking lots. It was indeed a joyous time.

Like with any event that features food, beverages and shopping, plastic will raise its ugly, undegradable head. From cups to food bowls and utensils, plastic was front and center during Saturday's events, and it's anyone's guess at how much of it was recycled and how much was thrown into regular trash cans.

For the plastic tossed into regular trash cans, its fate was to be later dumped into a landfill to sit and slowly break down, never to fully decompose, while seeping chemicals into our bodies of water.

It can be difficult to find a place for all plastics to be recycled. For example, there are seven classifications of plastics. Chattanooga, like most cities, only allows plastics in the first and second classes to be recycled. Classes 3-7 are deemed hard-to-recycle plastics.

Luckily for area citizens, last October the city of Chattanooga began a partnership with the bag-manufacturing company Hefty to be included in the company's Hefty ReNew program. Residents can now drop off their class 3-7 plastics at these recycling center locations: 5955 Brainerd Road, 1250 E. 3rd Street, 3189 Cummings Hwy., 8004 Batters Place Road and 4504 N. Access Road

Since last year 30 tons of hard to recycle plastics were collected via the program, according to the city.

There are recycling bins available at public events but currently the orange bags are not used in events such as MainX24 but that is something Mayor Tim Kelly's office wants to change.

"Exploring potential expansion of the Hefty program and special events is part of that discussion," Kevin Roig, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said on Tuesday.

This resource should be used by everyone in the community because, quite frankly, we have a problem with plastics.

Why the program is helpful

Heavy amounts of plastics don't just hurt the city, but also our beloved natural resources.

It was six years ago, in 2017, when German scientist and athlete Dr. Andreas Fath set a world record by swimming 652 miles of the Tennessee River, from Knoxville to Paducah, Kentucky. The swim also served as a way for Fath to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the river's water quality.

According to a 2018 article by the Tennessee Aquarium, Fath visited the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to discuss his findings based on daily water quality tests and samples collected during the swim. Fath compared the Tennessee River's levels to those he found in Germany's Rhine River, another river that he analyzed back in 2014.

The samples from the Tennessee River showed microplastic concentrations 8,000-percent higher than those found in the Rhine. The microplastics levels on the surface of the river were also 80 percent higher than in China's Yangtze River, which was found to be the source of 55 percent of all river-born microplastics entering the ocean, according to the article.

"I did not expect such high levels of microplastics. Therefore, we triple-checked the results," Fath said in 2018 about the study's finding. "By looking for a reason, we rather quickly made a plausible guess."

The difference in river levels of microplastic is likely a byproduct of differing approaches to waste management and recycling. Fath was in the belief that the high levels are a byproduct of decomposition from large plastic waste in landfills.

"In Germany, plastic waste is collected separately, and then it's combusted, recycled or exported to other countries like China, Vietnam, Thailand or Malaysia," he says. "In the states bordering the Tennessee River, plastic waste is going to landfills. More than 100 million straws each day are going to landfills."

The analysis from Fath suggests that the issue comes from the large amount of hard-to-recycle plastics, which makes the ReNew program even more important.

Fixing our problem with plastic

In a cynical take, a Bloomberg opinion column claims that, as humans, we don't have the capacity to care about climate change. That might partly be true. One person alone cannot fix the plastic issue nor any other environmental issue. It takes all of us.

We have resources such as the Hefty ReNew bags program, and it's a great resource to our city if we decide to use it. Since the Hefty program started, the city says 30 tons of plastics have been recycled.

It's an optimistic sight seeing normal citizens pick up plastic litter off the street while taking their daily walk downtown. But it shouldn't just be left up to those few who are trying to make a difference.

The special trash bags are $8 at Target (not an outrageous price for a set of 20 trash bags) and there are five convenient recycling locations that you can pick from. We are not just removing harmful degradable plastics from our community, we are also turning plastics into a source of power that can be used to power cities.

We're in this fight together, and participating can be as simple as recycling.

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