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Report Claims Recycling of Plastic Bags, Wraps Rose 50% in 5 Years

The recycling of plastic bags and wraps has increased 50 percent since 2005, according to a new report.

The report, developed by Sonoma, Calif.-based Moore Recycling Associates Inc. for the Washington-based American Chemistry Council (ACC) concludes that the recycling of bags and wraps, categorized as plastic film, reached a record high of 971.8 million pounds in 2010.

That also represents an increase of more than 117 million pounds, or 14 percent, compared with 2009 the ACC said in a news release. Over the five–year period recycling of plastic film grew seven times faster than recycling overall, according to data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

ACC attributes the increase to greater access to collection points for consumers, better labeling on bags and a general rise in consumer awareness.

The trade balance trend for plastic film shifted in 2010. Since 2006 more than half of film had been exported; in 2010 U.S. and Canadian processors consumed 53 percent of post-consumer material.

Composite lumber was the biggest market for recovered film, at 42 percent.

While ACC hailed the results, the environmental group Californians Against Waste was skeptical. Although there are some encouraging recycling signs, the group said in a news release the numbers are dwarfed by the EPA’s estimates of a 220-million pound growth in plastic bag generation during the same period.

“By every measure, the recycling of single–use plastic bags is a failure,” said Mark Murray, executive director of the group.

ACC also formed a new group to promote the growth of plastic film recycling, the Flexible Film Recycling Group (FFRG). Members of the new group include resin suppliers, film manufacturers, brand owners and recyclers.

“We’re excited to see strong growth in the recycling of plastic bags and wraps and even more excited about opportunities for increased recycling in the near future,” said Steve Russell, ACC vice president of plastics. “The FFRG looks forward to working with all parts of the polyethylene film value chain to make it even simpler to recover and recycle this valuable plastic material.”

FFRG initially plans to focus on increasing plastic film recycling by improving consumer awareness and promoting the growth of recycling infrastructure, particularly among smaller and mid-sized retailers, dry cleaners and other outlets.

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