April 27, 2010

Why Walmart is the only place that will recycle plastic bags

Since moving into our house last year, we have always had some sort of recycling strategy. We recycle the most common items, like cans and bottles. One thing that we always have around are plastic grocery sacks. These are unavoidable, and can quickly pile up if you don't use reusable mesh grocery bags.

Trying to recycle these sacks is tricky, because normal recycling centers do not accept them. Recently, I have noticed that Walmart does accept plastic bags for recycling. As far as I know, that is the only item that Walmart accepts for recycling (tires and automotive batteries maybe, but that is a given).

When I went into the store earlier this evening, I found it odd that they prominently displayed the crate to recycle plastic bags. Why would they accept only plastic bags? Why not cans and plastic bottles? I formulated the following theory about why they accept plastic bags for recycling while waiting 15 minutes as the cashier rang me up. It might not seem like a long time, but he started at 10:40 pm and I left the store at five til 11.

Walmart accepts plastic bags for recycling because that is the only realistic option for them to sack groceries. Walmart check lanes are operated by one cashier and no baggers. That means that a cashier checking out a cartload of groceries needs to sack all of them. It is only efficient when using plastic sacks on the turntable. Give the cashier a bag of mesh sacks and prepare to wait.

This begs the question - why would Walmart allow people to bring their own grocery sacks? It takes the cashier nearly triple the amount of time to sack groceries in reusable sacks. They are making more work for the customer by strongly encouraging the use of plastic sacks, hoping that the customer will remember to bring them back.

When given that much time to reflect, it is easy to come up with an explanation of why things are the way they are. It is loads cheaper to have cashiers sack groceries, so Walmart has made it incredibly efficient for the use of one process (using plastic bags) and nearly impossible for another process (bringing reusable mesh bags).


  1. I think Russ's Market had a "bring back a bag get x cents off once".

    Those stores pride themselves on having baggers and giving you the option (paper/plastic). Good deduction that Walmart does not. Either way, that's a lot of baggery.

  2. Hy-vee gives a 5-cent discount per bag if you bring your own, and accepts plastic bags for recycling.

  3. I like the novelty of the nickel off per mesh bag brought in.

    @Nate - baggery indeed.
    @Kiel - I wonder what the limit is? Because I probably have enough for a soda. Where do you recycle them at Hy-vee?