Plastic Bag Recycling: Good Progress, but Numbers Show Recycling Alone May Not Be Enough. Use of Compostable Bags Could be Key to Improving Waste Recovery

By Lynne Brum

Jul 01, 2013, 15:41 ET from Metabolix, Inc.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- I recently read an article in Plastics and Rubber Weekly stating that in 2011, "More than one billion pounds of post-consumer plastic bags and film were collected for recycling in the US." According to the report, plastic bag and film recycling is up four percent from 2010, and film recycling up 55 percent from 2005. The report indicates that the increase in the purchase of recycled materials has been driven by plastic and composite decking organizations.

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Composite decking has emerged as a terrific option for recycling plastics, and accounts for 55 percent of post-consumer film that was recycled.

While we at Metabolix would like to applaud the great strides that have been taken in the recycling of consumer film and bags, it is also important to note that there is still a long way to go. The rate of recycling for plastic bags remains low, at just over 11 percent for "Bags, Sacks and Wraps" in 2011. This 11 percent is likely bolstered by the inclusion of easily recyclable LDPE commercial shipping wrap along with grocery bags, usually made from HDPE. The Municipal Solid Waste report from 2011 also shows that recovery of plastic bags and wraps lost 0.4 percent from 2010. This certainly is not a large loss, but disappointing as compared to the 2 percent increase we saw from 2009 to 2010.

I know that recycling bags isn't easy from the consumer's perspective, as plastic bags are typically not part of "single stream" curbside municipal recycling programs—so even under the best circumstances, recycling involves a trip to a participating collection site, usually a grocery store. In my experience, while I always try to bring a reusable cloth bag with me to the store, my success rate is not 100 percent. The plastic bags that I get from the grocery store most often end up lining my smaller wastebaskets before going right into the trash, and on to the dump. So even though I've reduced my use of these bags and reused them, I'm still failing on the recycling end. And with the United States using more than 100 billion plastic grocery bags every year, sustainable alternatives need to be adopted more widely to help reduce the use of conventional plastic bags.

The emergence of compostable resins such as Metabolix's innovative Mvera™ B5008 presents a sustainable alternative to recycling.  Mvera B5008 resin is processed into film to make compostable bags that are performance equivalent to petroleum-based plastics.  The film is used to make shopping bags that can be directly composted or reused for food scrap collection, and then be composted along with the food scraps.  Please read our compostable bags FAQ for more information.

We all need to do our part to help reduce the use of fossil-fuel based plastics, especially single-use bags. Recycling of plastic film and bags is a part of the equation, and it is encouraging to see good numbers, and a robust composite decking market for recycling of these materials. But at only 4.3 percent recovery of plastic grocery bags in 2010, there is so much room for improvement. Diligent recycling and more convenient facilities, the use of reusable bags and the use of compostable bags represent three important ways to accomplish that goal.

Read the full post on the Metabolix blog.

SOURCE Metabolix, Inc.