GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Spartan Stores here stopped accepting polystyrene foam and plastic bags from retailers it services earlier this month, citing cost and health issues in handling.
An estimated 20% of the polystyrene foam and plastic bags returned by customers are contaminated with nonrecyclable items such as hypodermic needles and medical supplies, as well as dirty diapers, according to Gary Evey, a spokesman for Spartan. Approximately 45% of Spartan's 470 members participated in recycling these materials, he added.
The program was costing Spartan approximately $150,000 a year in labor, transportation and dumping fees, he added. Costs outweighed payments Spartan received for the recycled materials; the wholesaler was losing 14 cents per pound for bags and 11 cents per pound for polystyrene.
Labor costs included eight full-time associates on temporary assignment at the reclamation center at Spartan's warehouse in Charlotte, Mich. Employees sorted through every bag to make sure each was free of debris before it was sent to recyclers.
"This creates a hazardous work environment for associates and sanitation concerns at stores, on our trucks and at the reclamation center," Evey said.
The market for recycled items has declined, noted Evey. However, Spartan continues to accept retailer returns of stretch wrap, deposit bottles and cans, and corrugated paper for recycling.
Since 1988, Spartan has recycled nearly 1.3 million pounds of polystyrene and nearly 2 million pounds of plastic bags.