Impact of KAKE News plastic bag investigation
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - When you drop off plastic bags at big box stores for recycling chances are they'll end up in a landfill or incinerator instead.
That's what we found after KAKE News teamed up with ABC News and eight other affiliates across the country to test the system. Already, our joint investigation is making changes in the recycling world. But, what about closer to home?
In January we joined a group of ABC stations from around the country with one goal: to find out if big box store recycling efforts were making the grade.
We used GPS trackers to find out where the plastic bags we dropped off at Target and Walmart stores were going. We tracked their progress over the last few months.
Out of 46 trackers deployed nationwide: four made it to recycling centers, half of them ended up in landfills or trash incinerators and three ended up on the other side of the world.
Here in Kansas, we deployed four trackers. We had one last seen at a transfer station, two by a landfill, and one in Malaysia. None of the trackers we deployed made it to a recycling center.
“It's incredibly disheartening,” said Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple.
He says the city has worked hard over the last few years to become a good environmental citizen.
“Right now, we're over 92% renewable energy for our city hall building and also our libraries,” he said Tuesday morning. “And we want to continue to be responsible when it comes to sustainability.”
Some of you have asked if this investigation will change minds at City Hall about a plastic bag ban for Wichita. The mayor says that remains a non-starter.
“There is no law in place that would require Dillons to march towards completely eliminating single-use plastic bags. And if we were to put a law in place, we would actually mess up their plans,” he said, referring to Dillon’s Zero Hunger, Zero Waste campaign. “Our goal is to be a resource and to figure out what we can do to help the free market as they respond to reducing plastics. But of course, we want to lead with a carrot and not a stick.”
That’s not what recycling advocates like Lori Lawrence were hoping to hear.
“Not having bags here... would make a huge difference in our waterways, in our trees. I mean, you find plastic bags everywhere,” the former member of the city’s Plastic Bag Taskforce said. She favors a ban as a means to help clean up the plastic litter around the city. “We have places in Wichita where you already can't take… they don't have bags. Costco is a good example…And people don't scream when they get there….It's not a big deal. You know? But…they're led to believe that if they had to do that at Dillons, no one would be able to handle it. Well, of course, they could. People change habits all the time.”
One thing everyone we spoke with agreed on is when recycling doesn't work, it's time to start reducing. For example, we can reuse cloth grocery bags we take to the store with us.
“I think the city, we could do better with distributing cloth bags for folks,” Whipple said. “I think that there's already a robust information campaign about reusable cloth bags. I know my wife and I, we use reusable bags.”
Our collaborative investigation has already spurred change at the national level.
After learning about what we observed using our trackers, the research company that manages the online drop-off directory for plastic bag recycling told ABC just hours before our investigation aired that it "removed" all Walmarts and Targets from its list "until they can confirm that their store drop-off film and bag material is being recycled rather than landfilled or incinerated."
In written statements, both Walmart and Target re-stated their commitment to recycling and said they were working on ways to improve the system.