Plastic bag recycling phased out on campus after NY State ban passed by legislators

Campus Sustainability Office, Student Intern June 13, 2019

Effective immediately beginning June 2019, campus plastic bag recycling collection sites will be phased out of the Cornell Ithaca campus.  

Earlier in 2019, the New York State legislation passed a law effectively banning consumer plastic bags. The ban is set to go into effect no later than March 2020, with New York joining California and Hawaii who have already passed similar laws. The combined impact of the bans across three states will impact 60 million Americans, roughly 18% of the United States population.

Cornell is taking an early adoption stance on the ban with removal of the recycling stations. The purpose of removing these recycling locations on campus is two-fold.  First, plastic bag recycling has been one of many areas made more difficult by recycling restrictions from China in effect in Tompkins County and across the U.S. throughout 2018-2019. Read an article explaining the impacts to Cornell. In addition, Cornell R5 Operations, which manages campus waste and recycling, is looking to re-direct bags back to their original source. 

"We'd like you to return your plastic bags to the store they came from - Wegmans, Tops, Walmart, Target, and other local retailers will continue to house collection areas," says R5 Manager George Wood.  

"The plastic bag recycle process requires uniform material, and returning plastic bags to the point of sale has been shown to increase successful recycling of this type of plastic."

Plastic bag recycling locations were previously found in the Cornell Store, Humphrey’s Service Center, and Eco House, among other locations. If you would like to recycle plastic bags from your home or office, return them to the appropriate recycling station at the store of origin’s designated drop-off site. Make sure your bags are clean and empty before returning them for recycling. "Keep it clean" is one of the most important ways consumers can help ensure recycling gets to the proper reuse facility, instead of ending up in a landfill.  Recyclable materials, including plastic, that arrive in bins with food waste or mixed with non-recyclable materials may cause an entire recycling bin to become contaminated (meaning it must go to the landfill).  
Reusable bags are available for sale at the The Cornell Store, and other local locations. 
Purchase your Big Red Reusable Tote bag for just 99¢.

Reducing single use plastics is critical to creating a more sustainable future materials lifecycle. Currently, every five seconds, 60,000 plastic bags are consumed or used in the United States. With 43.2 million bags every hour making their way into consumer's hands, and often, landfills, eliminating plastic bags is one of the most visible ways Americans and Cornellians can transition away from using single-use plastic goods every day.  

Story written by Naomi Haber, Campus Sustainability Office Engagement Intern (Summer 2019)

For more information about recycling and waste stations on campus, contact Cornell R5 Operations