MAY 2010

Plastic bag and film recycling hits record

The recycling of plastic bags and film reached a record high across the United States in 2008, continuing a growing national recycling trend.

An estimated 832,394,000 pounds of post-consumer film (including plastic bags and product wraps) were recovered in 2008, according to the latest National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report. This represents a 28 percent increase in bag and film recycling since 2005.

The full report, "2008 National Postconsumer Recycled Plastic Bag and Film Report," is available here.

The boost in recycling was driven by greater consumer access to collection programs, primarily at large grocery and retail stores, as well as by new markets for these recycled materials.

The recycling report was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates, Inc. of Sonoma, California, based on information obtained from 79 domestic processors, end-users of film material and exporters. The recycling numbers reported likely understate actual bag and film recycling because export data is more difficult to obtain than data on domestic recycling, and in 2008 there was a shift toward export markets, according to the report. Data collection also was affected by the rapid spike in the number of collection programs as many stores launched new programs to recover post-consumer plastic bags and product wraps from their customers. There are now retail store collection programs in all 50 states.

The increasing number of bag and film recycling programs are being led, in part, by plastic bag makers. Last year, the Progressive Bag Affiliates announced a landmark recycling goal of 40 percent recycled content in all plastic shopping bags made by these companies by 2015.

To help reach that goal, plastic bag maker Hilex Poly expanded its recycling operations in North Vernon, Indiana. In addition, California, New York, Rhode Island and Delaware along with some major jurisdictions including Chicago and Tuscon have added new laws recently requiring stores to take-back plastic bags and film for recycling.

According to Environmental Protection Agency data, about 13 percent of plastic bags and film are recycled annually. While composite lumber continues to be the major market for recycled plastic bags and film, 2008 saw a notable increase in international demand for scrap plastic film.