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USC Pharmacy 'bags' participation in California recycling law

23-Aug-2007: The USC pharmacies have decided not to participate in a plastic bag recycling program adopted in a new California state law.

The law, Assembly Bill 2449, requires supermarkets and retail pharmacies with 10,000 square feet of retail space or $2 million in annual sales to collect, transport and recycle plastic carryout bags customers return to their stores.

Effective July 1, the law affects grocery and pharmacy chains including Ralphs, Superior Warehouse Grocers and Rite Aid, all of which currently provide collection bins for bags at their respective locations that neighbor campus. University pharmacies, however, are exempt from observing the law and have chosen not to provide the recycling program outlined in the legislation.

While USC pharmacy staff said they support recycling at the university, they said the recycling program detailed in the new law would be ineffective in reducing the pharmacies' negligible plastic bag waste.

"I think our pharmacy is small enough where our waste of plastic materials is quite minimal," said Elina Baskina, a University Park Campus pharmacy clerk and first-year doctoral candidate in the School of Pharmacy. "Implementing a recycling program won't make a big difference, since I don't believe our customers are particularly interested in it."

But some USC students said the pharmacies' lack of participation in the statewide program squanders an opportunity to improve the university's environmental credos.

"I definitely think that the USC Pharmacy should voluntarily comply with the new law … our campus needs at least one centralized facility that students can take their bags to recycle," said Krista McCarty, director of student relations for CALPIRG.

Stores complying with the law must provide clearly marked collection bins for plastic bags returned for recycling and keep records proving store compliance with the statewide program for a minimum of three years.

Plastic bags given to customers must also display a message stating customers can return them to the store for recycling. In addition, reusable bags made of cloth or heavier grade plastic must be available for purchase.

California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, who authored the law, said in a press release the recycling act intends to promote growth in the California recycling market and reduce the amount of recyclable waste sent to landfills.

Yet stores that began their programs in the past eight weeks said the majority of their customers are still unaware of the collection services they now provide.

A supervisor at the Rite Aid on Vermont Avenue said only a small number of customers have returned their bags for recycling since the pharmacy set up one collection box at the storefront in July.

Few people know about the recycling act or the collection bins, so the program's growth depends on boosting customer awareness, the supervisor said.

Unlike larger chain pharmacies, USC pharmacies do not need to comply with the law because the pharmacies fail to meet the criteria for stores obligated to do so in both profits and retail space.

The administrator for the University Park Campus pharmacy, Kari Trotter, declined to comment because she said she did not have a strong knowledge of the law.

Steven Sage, a third-year doctoral candidate in the School of Pharmacy and intern pharmacist on the University Park campus, said the pharmacy distributes approximately 1,000 plastic bags per month to customers during the academic year. He said the number of plastic bags the pharmacy distributes decreases significantly in the summer months.

Sage said the pharmacy has chosen not to participate in the statewide recycling program for plastic bags because of space constraints and logistical issues. It is unclear how the university would assist if the pharmacy were to participate in the recycling program, he said.

Sage said he has never received customer feedback regarding the pharmacy's lack of participation in the recycling program and doubts customers would take advantage of the services if they were provided.

Baskina said the recycling program outlined in the new law would likely be ineffective if instituted at USC pharmacies.

"I think it's up to the school to provide recycling bins around campus and housing facilities," she said. "I think that would prove more effective rather than concentrating efforts on the pharmacy, which is not a large source of plastic bag waste to begin with."

Baskina said the pharmacy usually gives paper bags made of recycled materials to customers, and some customers opt to stick purchases in their backpacks. The pharmacy uses plastic bags only for bulky purchases or upon customer request, she said.

McCarty, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said that while the pharmacy is not one of the largest plastic bag distributors, its decision not to voluntarily comply with the law forfeits a chance to teach students about making environmentally conscious choices.

McCarty said students often complain that recycling is not accessible enough on campus.

While the university does provide recycling for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, glass, newspapers, ink cartridges, batteries and other electronics, few students know how to take advantage of the recycling programs, McCarty said.

As a result, the campus would benefit from a centralized facility where students can take plastic bags for recycling, whether the collection program is located at the pharmacy or at other campus stores that distribute plastic bags, McCarty said.

Instituting a recycling program for plastic bags at the pharmacy could inspire students to incorporate recycling plastic bags into their daily activities on campus, she said.

"I think it's the students' responsibility to let the administrators know that it's something we care about and want on campus," McCarty said. "It's the university's responsibility to listen to our concerns and act on them."

Source: Daily Trojan Online

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