Where Have the Plastic Bags Gone?
Plastic bags are everywhere. Many years ago the only bags at the grocery store were paper ones. Now you have a choice of paper, plastic or bring your bag. Where have all the bags gone after they are used? Plastic bag and film recycling in the U.S. reached a record high in 2008, recovering about 832 million pounds of post consumer film, according to a new study from the American Chemistry Council.
Plastic bags are difficult and costly to recycle and many end up on landfill sites where they take around 300 years to photo degrade. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them. But the problems surrounding waste plastic bags starts long before they photo degrade. Many become airborne and float surprising distances. Others can choke waterways and animals.
The recycling report, â€œNational Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Reportâ€, conducted by Moore Recycling Associates, finds that plastic bag and film recovery increased 28 percent since 2005, driven by several factors including greater consumer access to collection programs and new markets for the recycled materials such as backyard decking, fencing, railings, shopping carts and new bags.
The reportâ€™s findings are based on recovery data from 19 domestic processors or end users of film material and 60 companies that export material. However, researchers note that the recycling numbers may understate actual bag and film recycling because export data was more difficult to obtain.
And it is not just the stereotypical grocery store plastic bag. What is included (and it varies from state to state) are:
- Newspaper bags
- Dry cleaning bags
- Bread bags
- Produce bags
- Toilet paper, napkin, and paper towel wraps
- Furniture wrap
- Electronic wrap
- Plastic retail bags
- Grocery bag
- Zip lock bags (remove hard components)
- Plastic cereal box liners
- Case wrap (e.g., snacks, water bottles)
Many recycling bins for this program are at supermarket chains or major retail stores.
Another report finding shows that the recycling programs are being led in part by plastic bag makers.
In addition, some states have implemented recycling rules that could spike the recycling numbers even higher. As an example, in 2008, New Yorkâ€™s Governor Patterson signed legislation that will require many retail stores to recycle plastic carry out bags or face fines from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In New York City plastic bags are being targeted for recycling since film plastic comprises about 7.5% of residential waste stream and is mostly comprised of plastic bags. Plastic bags specifically, comprise about 2.87% of New York Cityâ€™s residential waste stream, which is the largest source of plastic in the city's waste stream.