If you’re like me, you probably have plenty of plastic bags and packaging around your home. It’s good to reuse existing bags for litter or to carry new purchases. Even if you reuse bags, you probably have other thin plastic packaging from things like paper product overwrap, bread, produce, newspaper, and dry cleaning bags; and air pillows, bubble wrap or shipping envelopes from online deliveries. Companies use this thin film plastic for packaging because it is lightweight but strong, it helps reduce product loss and it reduces fuel consumption (and greenhouse gas emissions) versus heavier packaging like cardboard.
There is a huge opportunity to educate people across the country about how, where and what types of films to recycle. Film packages should be returned to participating retail or drop off locations—not placed in the curbside recycling bin. Plastic bags and wraps create big problems in our current curbside recycling systems because material recovery facilities (MRFs), the facilities that sort curbside collected recyclables, weren’t designed to handle thin film plastic. The facilities have to shut down at least once a day to cut the wrap material from equipment. The national cost to MRFs hasn’t been calculated, but downtime, manpower, and disposal costs related to plastic bags, film and wraps in the MRFs most likely costs millions of dollars every year.
If consumers bypassed their curbside carts and returned their household bags and wrap to one of the over 18,000 drop off locations across the country, we could see significant savings for greenhouse gas emissions (1 billion pounds recycled is equivalent to more than 100,000 cars on the road). At retail locations, returned bags and film join wrap (pallet or stretch wrap) generated during store operations on an efficient journey back to retailers’ distribution centers. Once at the distribution center, the plastic film is baled and stored for buyers to pick up in large quantities. Recycled plastic wrap and bags are feedstock for the production of new bags, composite lumber, and more.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) launched the How2Recycle label to help educate consumers with recycling information directly on packages. Today, dozens of brands use the various labels, including the one for film, to direct consumers about where and how to recycle the component parts of a product’s package. I encourage you to look for the label on all types of consumer products and let brands know if you’d like to see it on their packaging.
Lastly, the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP) has been working since 2013 to educate consumers that “Return to Retail” or drop-offs is the best way to recycle these materials. We are making strides in communities where we’ve had targeted campaigns, but we need more community partners and champions to share the message to their neighbors, local businesses and friends. If you had an “Aha” moment when you read that you can recycle more than grocery bags at your local supermarket, I invite you to let others know.
To learn more about how and where to recycle plastic bags, film, and wraps visit www.plasticfilmrecycling.org.
Want to join the effort? Email WRAP
Tonya Randell is a Program Manager for More Recycling. She is passionate about reducing use of plastic bags and educating about the proper way to recycle plastic bags and film. She lives in North Carolina with her family and pets.