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Frequently Asked Questions


68 million bags thrown away in Napa every year?  Where did that number come from?

Clean Seas Coalition and Green Cities California state that Californians use more than 19 billion bags each year.  Total bags per resident (35 million) multiplied by residents of Napa County (135,000) total over 73 million.  Less than 5% are recycled. That equals approximately 68 million, and that is less than 1.5 bags per day per person, a reasonable number considering the quantity of bags we are all “given” every time we shop for anything.


What are plastic bags really made from?

Californians Against Waste state that plastic bags are made from polyethylene which is derived from natural gas that has been extracted along with petroleum (oil).  Thus, the production of plastic bags involves the extraction and use of petroleum.


So what happens to plastic bags when we use then for only 12 minutes and throw them away?

When plastic bags are thrown away they usually end up in landfills or in waterways and oceans. reports that in a landfill, plastics may take up to 1,000 years to degrade and they break down into tiny particles that contaminate our soil and water. also states that an estimated 8 billion pounds of plastic bags, wraps and sacks enter the waste stream every year.  The question is, why use anything as harmful as a plastic product for less than 12 minutes and then throw it away?


Why not just use and recycle plastic bags?

The production of plastic materials requires non-renewable resources including fossil fuels.  The majority of plastic bags are never recycled properly; most end up in landfill or waterways, a few are recycled, others are bundled and shipped to Asia and are processed with little or no environmental controls.


Why don’t we switch to paper bags?

In fact, every year the United States does use paper bags-- approximately 10 billion of them.  They can be reused and recycled but they require 14 million trees, according to the National Cooperative Grocers Association.  Pulp production is one of the largest energy users, according to the Energy Information Administration.  Paper requires a huge amount of water according to the EPA.


How do we avoid plastic bags?

Make an attempt to not accumulate plastic bags in the first place.  The best and easiest habit to develop is to shop with a reusable bag.  It is a good feeling to carry in a bag and have the checker fill it and carry it out, without using any plastic bags.  Loose items such as fruit and vegetables fit well in mesh bags.  And take a reusable bag into the home improvement store and pharmacy, too.


What is the best way to recycle plastic bags?

Any clean plastic bag or film (such as container wrapping) should be taken back to the grocery store or home improvement store where there are containers for used bags.  These bags are sold to a recycling center and kept out of landfills.


Do not place any plastic bag in the NRWS “Blue Cart.” 

They get tangled in the mechanical sorting equipment.  These carts are for all other materials except bags.  See NRWS materials for complete information as to what may and cannot be recycled in the blue carts.  If you have bags, take them to a recycle bin on your next trip to the grocery store, drug store or big box store.  It is an easy habit to develop.


Since plastic bags are free, it is very convenient to use them.

The truth is that plastic bags are NOT free.  Initially there is the huge cost to the environment to extract the petroleum products needed for the manufacture and shipping of the bags.  The stores must buy the bags and that cost is passed on directly to the consumer, which is between 2-5 cents per bag.  Next we must consider the costs to deal with the thrown away bag.  San Francisco completed a “Bag Cost Analysis” in 2004 and found the cost to collect, subsidize the recycling, and disposal of bags amounts to as much at 17 cents per bag.  That means we pay approximately 20 cents for each and every bag we use and throw away.


What damage do plastic bags cause?

It is important to consider the almost impossible task to deal with the litter that plastic bags create, and more importantly, as the thrown away bag blows around in the wind, parts of it remain in our fields and streams.  Domestic animals and all types of marine life are now exposed to plastic materials in their environment.  More and more marine life is found with plastic bag particles in their digestive systems. reports that hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.  We must protect our food sources!


Are reusable bags safe?

Californians Against Waste report that a reusable study in 2010 found that levels of bacteria found in reusable bags are commonly found on other surfaces that come in contact with meat products, and that consumers need to clean their bags regularly.  “There was no evidence that reusable bags contain anything close to dangerous levels of bacteria or that the e.coli strains found were in fact dangerous,” concluded the assessment completed by University of Arizona and Loma Linda University.


Where can I get more information?

There are many sources of available information.  NRWS (Napa Recycling and Waste Services) has great information on what we can do with our items that can be recycled. Other resources include Californians Against Waste, Clean Seas Coalition and Green Cities California, (local cities working together to promote use of reusable bags), (good general information), plus many, many online sources for information.  But start with these, become informed, then make a difference by developing a new habit: shop with your BETTER BAG.