Plastic Bag Recycling Up Across U.S.

Driven by greater consumer access to recycling programs and new markets for recycled materials, plastic bag and film recycling increased across the U.S. in 2007, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The latest National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report by Moore Recycling Associates, Inc. estimated 830,180,000 pounds of post-consumer film (including plastic bags and product wraps) was recovered, a 27 percent increase from 2005.

Since these reports are for 2007, they do not take into account the numerous mandatory bag recycling laws and initiatives various states have put in place since then. Additionally, the report noted the challenges in measuring export markets for plastic film, consequently having incomplete data for a growing sector of plastic film recycling.

"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, managing director for ACC's Plastics Division. "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."

Many companies are built on the premise of utilizing recycled plastic bags and films to create the new products that Russell mentioned, like TREX, who manufactures recycled construction materials. In fact, Dave Heglas of TREX noted that the company recycled over 2.5 billion pounds of plastic over the last decade.

While composite lumber continues to be the major market for recycled plastic bags and film, there has also been a significant increase in the amount of post-consumer recycled film that went into new film and sheet applications.

Hilex Poly, a leading plastic bag manufacturer, established a program that recycles old bags into new ones called Bag-2-Bag®. In 2008, Hilex recycled the equivalent of 400 million bags and reduced its use of new material by eight million pounds.

Although many local recylers collect plastic #2 (HDPE) and plastic #4 (LDPE), from which most plastic bags are made, this form of these popular plastics is not accepted in many curbside programs. This exception in collection has caused the creation of numerous recycling programs at retail and grocery stores to mitigate the waste from this particular type of plastic. Additionally, many consumers are converting to reusable bags in place of disposable ones.