There really are better ways to handle the plastic bag problem besides outright bans. Just ask Troy Cook, Operations Manager of Novolex’s recycling plant in North Vernon, IN. Located next door to Novolex’s plastic bag manufacturing facility, the recycling facility offers a closed-loop system—Bag-2-Bag—that meets consumer demands for “green” initiatives while maintaining the benefits of plastics that many consumers love.
Cook told PlasticsToday that Novolex’s recycling plant works with bag manufacturing plants throughout the region to reprocess plastic scrap from their production lines. “We get the scrap plastic from different streams of materials, reprocess it and return it to them to make new bags,” explained Cook. “We have both post-industrial scrap brought in from third-party buyers, and post-consumer from various vendors and customers who bring us their waste stream.”
Like many in the retail bag manufacturing industry, Cook is against bag bans. “I think [bag bans] are bad decisions made with bad information,” he said. “We push the recycling aspects of bags because customers have asked for plastic bags; it’s their preference. Polyethylene is 100% recyclable. We partner with various stores and other sources to put up recycling bins.”
Cook believes that making it easy for consumers to recycle is key. “The more we can promote recycling and give people the opportunity to recycle, the more they will do that,” he said. “If there are no recycling receptacles or barrels to put their bags into at the store level, their inclination is to put it in the trash. The easier we can make it for them, the more they will participate in recycling.”
Through the Bag-2-Bag system, Novolex’s recycling facility brings in materials either through post-industrial or post-consumer reclamation; the company also looks for opportunities to purchase materials. Currently Novolex’s bags can contain up to 60% of recycled material, and the company is looking to increase its post-consumer input into the bags.
“Our customers, retail bag manufacturers, are looking to increase post-consumer material in their end-use bags,” said Cook. “The amount of recycled content in our bags is really dependent on supply inventory and the availability of different materials,” Cook explained. “We partner with our customers to determine how much recycled content they’re looking to achieve, run various tests to ensure quality standards are met and certify the various percentages of recycled material.”
The bags show some variation in color, given that reclaimed materials might be colored or printed with various colors of inks. For example, what would be a white bag might be off-white or eggshell, depending on additives and inks used in the reclaimed materials. The darker gray bags have more of the colored materials and darker inks.
“It’s customer preference as to what colors they want, and we work with them to increase the amount of recyclable materials they have to determine the difference in clarity and color they have available,” said Cook.