Plastic Bag Recycling Hits Record High: Report

The recycling of plastic bags and film reached a record high across the United States in 2008, as part of a rising national recycling trend, according to a recycling report conducted by Sonoma, Calif.-based Moore Recycling Associates, Inc. The “2008 National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report” further found that an estimated 832,394,000 pounds of post-consumer film (including plastic bags and product wraps) were recovered in 2008, representing a 28 percent increase in bag and film recycling since 2005.

This growth in recycling was attributable to greater consumer access to collection programs, mainly at large grocery and retail stores, as well as by new markets for recycled materials, noted the report, which was based on information received from 79 domestic processors, end-users of film material and exporters. In fact, the recycling numbers reported likely understate actual bag and film recycling, since export data is harder to obtain than data on domestic recycling, and in 2008 there was a shift toward export markets the report said, adding that data collection also was affected by the rapid spike in the number of collection programs as many retailers introduced programs to recover post-consumer plastic bags and product wraps from shoppers. There are currently retail store collection programs in all 50 states.

“More Americans are recycling plastic bags and film than ever before, driven by a growing recognition that plastic is a valuable resource – too valuable to waste,” said Steve Russell, VP of plastics for the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. “Recovered plastic bags and wraps can be recycled into many useful products, including durable backyard decking, fencing, railings, shopping carts and, of course, new bags. Increased recycling of bags and film is good for the environment and good for the economy.”

Added Russell, “ACC will continue to work with grocers, retailers, communities and policymakers around the country to educate consumers and promote plastic recycling.”

Spearheading the burgeoning number of bag and film recycling programs are plastic bag manufacturers, according to ACC, which noted that last year, the Progressive Bag Affiliates unveiled a landmark recycling goal of 40 percent recycled content in all plastic shopping bags made by such companies by 2015. When fully rolled out, the Full Circle Recycling Initiative will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 463 million pounds, conserve enough energy (mostly natural gas) to heat 200,000 homes, and reduce waste by 300 million pounds annually.

In support of that goal, plastic bag maker Hilex Poly expanded its recycling operations in North Vernon, Ind., and California, New York, Rhode Island and Delaware, in addition to some major jurisdictions such as Chicago and Tuscon, have recently implemented laws requiring stores to accept plastic bags and film for recycling.

While composite lumber is still the major market for recycled plastic bags and film, there was a notable increase in international demand for scrap plastic film, ACC said.

“2008 National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report” is available on
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