Plastic bag bans continue to spread, with Los Angeles recently banning bags thinner than 2.25 millimeters. While it is understandable that proponents of bag bans wish to eliminate harmful litter and promote a reuse-focused lifestyle, plastic film continues to be distributed widely to the public in myriad other forms, including bread bags; wraps around paper, diapers and other hygienic products; drink case wraps; bags around new appliances, furniture and apparel; dry cleaning bags; and many others. Retailers also must manage material generated back-of-house, such as plastic pallet wrap.
Specifically, polyethylene (HDPE #2 and LDPE #4) bags, wraps and films offer a growing recovery market. Retailers are able to collect and sell this valuable commodity, in many cases taking advantage of reverse distribution logistics while at the same time providing a needed service to customers who increasingly are aware of retailer plastic film take-back programs.
There is widespread concern that bag bans will have the unintended consequence of eliminating this important collection mechanism. In addition, these materials are often labeled with the confusing Resin Identification Codes, which do not specify how to recycle the material and leave it to end up in landfill. The question remains: How can we alert consumers, as well as policy makers, that there are easy and widespread collection options?
GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has partnered with the American Chemistry Council's Flexible Film Recycling Group to provide education and opportunities around plastic film recycling. We continue to offer financial sponsorships to become a participant in the SPC's How2Recycle Label program, specifically to use the "Store Drop-off" version of the label on carry-out and other plastic film material at no cost. Look for this label now appearing on all Seventh Generation film packages, Kellogg cereal products (including Kashi brand) and Sealed Air's Fill-Air inflatable packaging. Opportunities are available for brand owners to use the label on Ampac's No.2 pouch, CEI's LDPE packaging and any other PE-based film package.
The ACC has also made available a free, downloadable poster for use with front-of-store recycling bins, a list of retail locations in the online Drop-Off Directory at the recently revamped website www.plasticfilmrecycling.org and technical assistance to help navigate the issues around implementation.
Another exciting partnership has evolved with the State of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources to increase plastic film recycling in Wisconsin beyond bags. Our team will select a metropolitan area in Wisconsin to conduct a consumer awareness campaign as a key piece of this initiative, and will make the selection largely based on retailer interest. Another goal of this initiative is to encourage retailers to also accept ﬁlm and bags from smaller, neighboring businesses. According to Moore Recycling Associates' report completed for ACC, this Business-to-Business (B2B) model can be found in a growing number of locations.
In 2011, an estimated 1 billion pounds of film were collected for recycling in the U.S., an increase of 4 percent over the previous year. The sources are primarily commercial, with retail post-consumer material comprising only 22 percent of the total. We hope and believe that the packaged goods and plastics industries, as well as educators, government and non-governmental organizations, can join us in helping to drastically increase the amount of this post-consumer material that is successfully recycled—by properly labeling and collecting the variety of recyclable bags, wraps and other films in the market today.
Author Anne Bedarf is senior manager for GreenBlue. For info about GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the How2Recycle Label, visit www.sustainablepackaging.org and www.how2recycle.info.