The use of plastic bags is under increasing attack by environmental groups and municipalities, but their recycling track record is showing improvement, according to a new report from the American Chemistry Council. An estimated 832,394,000 pounds of post-consumer film (including plastic bags and product wraps) were recovered in 2008, up 28 percent since 2005. The improvement was 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.
“Recovered plastic bags and wraps can be recycled into many useful products, including durable backyard decking, fencing, railings, shopping carts and, of course, new bags,” says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. “ACC will continue to work with grocers, retailers, communities and policymakers around the country to educate consumers and promote plastic recycling.”
A group called the Progressive Bag Affiliates announced a goal of 40 percent recycled content in all plastic shopping bags made by its members by 2015.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 13 percent of plastic bags and film are recycled annually. While composite lumber is the major market for recycled plastic bags and film, recycling received a boost in the first part of 2008 by high prices that attracted exports.
It’s not clear to what extent the boost in recycling may also have been due to a smaller target. Many stores encourage shoppers to use cloth or reusable synthetic bags to reduce their packaging expenses. According to Plastics News, there are 12 plastic bag bans in the U.S., including one in San Francisco. In a bill before the Baltimore City Council, disposable plastic bags will be banned unless merchants encourage their customers to recycle or shop with reusable bags.