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U.S. bag recycling hits record, with more film scrap headed overseas

U.S. plastic bag and film recycling hit a record in 2008, with rates up 28% since 2005, reaching an estimated 832,394,000 lb, with the export market consuming nearly twice as much as the composite lumber industry, as 57% of the material collected was shipped overseas. By comparison, in 2005, 652,477,000 lb of bag and film was collected, with 183,701,000 exported.


The National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report is published by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) using data culled by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. (Sonoma, CA). Moore obtained information from 79 domestic processors, end-users, and exporters of film materials. The increase in collection is attributed to greater consumer access to collection programs, primarily at large grocery and retail stores, as well as by new markets for these recycled materials.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, about 13% of plastic bags and film are recycled annually, with composite lumber continuing to be the major outlet. In 2008, however, there was a notable increase in international demand for scrap plastic film.

Data collection for Moore's report was affected by the rapid spike in collection programs, with retail store-collection programs now in all 50 states. Also helping drive the market, the Progressive Bag Affiliates, an industry group including leading manufacturers of plastic bags and polyethylene resins, announced a recycling goal of 40% recycled content in all plastic shopping bags made by members by 2015.

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

According to the report, 61% of all film recovered was commercial film, which is clear, clean polyethylene (PE) film including stretch wrap and poly bags. The next largest group was mixed film claiming 32% and including mixed color, clean PE film, including grocery bags.  

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