THE BRONX - Large city retailers may soon have to encourage plastic bag recycling or face fines after a City Council vote Wednesday.The majority of council members approved legislation that requires retailers with stores bigger than 5,000 square feet or with more than five branches to implement recycling programs.

"They have to set up bins where their customers can bring their bags back so they can be recycled," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

According to council figures, Americans use 84 billion plastic bags a year, 1 billion of which are used by New York City residents.

"Green" supporters say the recycled shopping bags would go to good use. "Innovative products such as decking, fences, lumber," said David Vermillion, of the Edelman Company, "or even make them into plastic bags again."

Stores such as Foodtown have already gotten on the bandwagon. The grocery store claims it's sold thousands of canvas bags to customers who prefer the material over plastic.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has 30 days to veto or sign off on the bill. If the measure becomes law, retailers that fail to comply could be fined up to $300 daily.