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Plastic film recycling inching forward in U.S.

Report shows a 1% increase in recycling of post-consumer film packaging from 2011 to 2012 and outlines opportunities for further growth.
FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Recycling

The recycling of post-consumer film packaging continues to climb with the total amount collected for recycling in 2012 exceeding 1 billion pounds—an increase of 1% over 2011, according the “2012 National Postconsumer Plastic Bag & Film Recycling Report.” The report is based on surveys from 21 U.S. and Canadian processors and 39 exporters. A minimum of 1.02 billion pounds of post-consumer film was acquired for recycling in 2012, an increase of 56% since 2005.

Conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. for the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the report looked at the category of “plastic film,” which includes plastic bags, product wraps, and commercial shrink film.

“This report shows that even though film recycling had not grown as we had hoped last year, there is a lot of opportunity to make a difference with our programs,” says Shari Jackson, Director of the ACC’s Flexible Film Recycling Group (FFRG).

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Today there are more than 18,000 store drop-off locations throughout the U.S. to collect plastic bags, wraps, and film for recycling. Moreover, existing infrastructures for collecting commercial film can be greatly expanded to capture significantly more of this material from the increasing number of businesses seeking recovery options for shrink film and transport packaging.

Recycled polyethylene film is used to make a range of products, including durable plastic and composite lumber for outdoor decks and fencing, home building products, garden products, crates, pipe, and new film packaging like plastic bags.

Through FFRG, which represents resin producers, film converters, brand owners, and recyclers, the industry is actively working to increase both business and consumer participation in the film recycling process. The FFRG is spearheading a number of new initiatives to expand education and access to film recycling to dramatically increase the recycling of this material over the next five years.

For example, the FFRG is working to implement in the coming months a national multi-stakeholder collaboration known as the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP). It is currently conducting outreach to key stakeholders and developing best practices to launch this initiative later in 2014. A social component of WRAP is already underway to help educate Americans about what can be recycled in the film and wrap category of plastics and to drive them to a zip code locator database on the FFRG’s flagship platform.


“What is very encouraging about the report is the information on the bale audits,” says Jackson. “We’re seeing that the majority of films collected for recycling are film product wraps and other film packaging. We’ve been working hard to educate people about their ability to recycle plastic film packaging beyond bags, so it’s reassuring to see the bales reflect that our messaging is connecting and having an impact.” 

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