The ubiquitous polyethylene grocery bag is a marvel of modern plastics technology – cheap at about a penny a piece, lightweight yet strong enough to hold a heavy load without leaking, reusable for thousands of chores and eminently recyclable to make more bags or other greener products.
They are not without critics, however. They are too often found blowing in the wind, defacing the landscape, are not biodegradable in landfills and many consider them harmful to wildlife.
Regardless, plastic bags and wraps are inexorably intertwined with everyday life and are apparently here to stay. Many of the problems can be greatly mitigated by personal responsibility to prevent littering and by highly aggressive recycling programs to recover more of a valuable commodity.
In 2008, of the 2,900 thousand tons of polyethylene bags and wraps produced, 390 thousand tons were recovered for a recycling rate of 13.4 percent. ...read more
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Demand for plastic lumber remains high
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the recycling rate for polyethylene bags and wraps doubled from 2005 to 2008 going up to 832 billion pounds, growing 28 percent since 2005. “This is very strong growth and it even continued in 2008 when the economy was in a global recession. If you look at recycling of other commodities nationwide, EPA reported that recycling overall went down on a volume basis by about 2.7 percent in 2008, but bag and film recycling continued to grow,” said Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets for the American Chemistry Council.
Although significant progress has been made over the past few years, it is not nearly enough. When asked “paper or plastic?” at the checkout counter, consumers are faced with a range of complex economic-environmental issues, but have voted overwhelmingly for plastic. “About 95 percent of bags used in the United States are plastic. People have decided they prefer plastic bags and stores have largely decided on giving those out,” said Christman. ...read more