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Bag maker and recycler Hilex Poly receives environmental award

While some hope that plastic bags go the way of the dinosaurs, the nation's largest manufacturer of single-use plastic bags was recently recognized for its recycling program.

While some hope that plastic bags go the way of the dinosaurs, the nation's largest manufacturer of single-use plastic bags was recently recognized for its recycling program.

Hilex Poly was presented with the 2013 Society of Plastics Engineers Environmental Division's Award for Plastics Recycling Technologies and Applications, at the Global Plastics Environmental Conference in New Orleans, LA. The award recognizes innovations in plastics recycling solutions and an overall commitment to sustainability.

Hilex Poly received the award for its Bag-2-Bag recycling program, which helps consumers and retail employees recycle plastic bags, sacks and wraps at grocery stores and retailers. Hilex has set up more than 30,000 collection points distributed across the country at in-store collection bins, where the company collects plastic bags, sacks and wraps including dry cleaning bags, water bottle overwraps and newspaper bags. The material is then gathered into bales and transported to the company's recycling center in North Vernon, IN.

Hilex Poly invested more than $25 million in its recycling center, which recycled in excess of 20 million lb of bags, sacks and wraps in 2012. These materials are then recycled into new, recyclable plastic bags. Recycled plastic bags and packaging films can be recycled into many products, including backyard decking, piping and playground equipment.

"We are honored to be recognized for our joint commitment to plastics and sustainability innovation," said Mike Sullivan, director of new product development at Hilex Poly, who received the award. "At Hilex Poly, our innovative Bag-2-Bag program is a collaborative effort with our customers and reinforces our responsibility and dedication to the environment."

Compared to conventional bags, the "Bag-2-Bag" bags made of recycled content require 20% less energy to produce, lower carbon emissions by 11%, divert millions of pounds from landfills each year, and provide sustainability conscious consumers a closed-loop carryout package, the company stated.

As part of my bag ban report for PlasticsToday, I toured Hilex's recycling facility in North Vernon. Mark Daniels, VP of sustainability and environmental policy for Hilex, took me through the entire Bag-2-Bag process, which was an impressive operation.

A common argument for those pushing for bag bans is that plastic bags aren't being recycled and instead are taking up space in the landfill. However, an operation like Hilex shows that recycling is not only good for the environment; it can also represent an economically sound model.

"There are bags going to the landfill," Daniels told me at the facility. "But we have created a viable plan to recycle the plastic bags and manufacture into new bags, which is saving more bags from going to the landfill." 

This award was given following news that the recycling of plastic film increased by 4% to reach 1 billion lb annually in 2011 for the first time, according to a report by Moore Recycling Associates, on behalf of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The category of plastic film includes plastic bags, product wraps and commercial shrink film and the report stated that the recycling of plastic film has grown 55% since 2005. 

"In-store collection is absolutely critical for recycling plastic bags, wraps and other flexible film packaging," Steve Russell, VP of plastics for ACC, said in a news release. "The infrastructure is there. The plastic film industry is now working to help grocers and retailers maximize the collection of this valuable material by sharing tools and best practices and through consistent customer education."

Currently, Hilex produces plastic bags with about 30% recycled content and the company would like to eventually make bags with 100% recycled content.

"If we can get more consumers to recycle, we will have more content to use in our bags," Daniels said. "We have the proven technology to do so."

For those who don't believe there is a viable recycling plan for plastic shopping bags, perhaps they should make a trip to North Vernon, IN.  

TAGS: Packaging
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