Plastic film recycling reaches 1 billion lb

February 25, 2013

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. 

According to the report, approximately 58% of U.S.-recovered postconsumer film was consumed domestically in 2011, up from 53% in 2010. The report credits this increase due to the growth in the plastic and composite lumber industry, the primary market for this material.

The composite lumber industry showed a 120 million lb increase in consumption from 2010 to 2011 to reach 55% of the total market for recovered film. Consumption of postconsumer plastic film by the film and sheet industry, the second largest market for this material, was at 100 million lb, or 16% of the total market.

Recycled polyethylene film is used to make a range of products, including durable plastic and composite lumber for outdoor decks and fencing, home building products, garden products, crates, pipe and new film packaging such as plastic bags.

The recovery data in the report is based on a survey of 19 U.S. and three Canadian processors of postconsumer film along with 37 companies that export this material.

"Reaching the one-billion lb mark is an achievement that plastics makers, recyclers and retailers can be proud of," said Steve Russell, VP of plastics for ACC, in the news release. "We're continuing to work together to get that number even higher."

Bag maker and recycler Hilex Poly has set up more than 30,000 collection points across the country, mostly at retail stores for consumers to drop off their used plastic bags. The company partners with other companies to purchase used plastic bags and films for recycling. In 2005, Hilex invested more than $20 million to establish the first bag-to-bag recycling facility in North America.

The recycling plant began operations collecting and reprocessing about 3 million lb of old sacks; it has since increased to upwards of 22 million lb of post-consumer PE bags, films and sheets.

"In-store collection is absolutely critical for recycling plastic bags, wraps and other flexible film packaging," Russell said. "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."

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