Proposed Pathways to Recycled Content in Bags

Government legislation & procurement policy


In the wake of a collapsed recycling export market and rising public concern about plastic waste, we are calling for increased commitments to use post-consumer recycled (PCR) film resin. We encourage all levels of government to consider how they can increase their use; specifically, we are highlighting two mechanisms to increase the use of PCR film resin: 1) government legislation and 2) green procurement policy.


1 | Government legislation requiring PCR film

We believe recycled content mandates are a direct, market-driven approach to encourage the growth of the recycling industry. While some stakeholders in the industry have advocated for voluntary recycled content commitments, they are an unlikely driver for real change. Some companies may choose to use recycled plastic to meet their corporate social responsibility goals of reducing waste or carbon emissions, but those goals often take a back seat to the financial bottom line.

Recycled content mandates have been evaluated and implemented in many jurisdictions across North America and internationally. Manufacturers producing packaging for these marketplaces have had to adopt new procedures and find new suppliers to meet governments’ requirements. The following legislation has provided strong market signals to plastic film recyclers to invest in additional capacity:

  • Since 1990, the state of California has had legislation requiring all trash bags sold in the state to include 10% post-consumer resin.

  • As a clause in California’s state-wide bag ban, all reusable film bags purchased at checkout in retail stores must include 20% PCR content since 2016 and must include 40% by 2020.

  • In March, Washington State Senate also passed a statewide bag ban which included a clause that all reusable film bags purchased at checkout in retail stores must include 40% PCR content by 2020. This bill is currently pending house approval.

Where possible, we ask other government entities to mandate the use of PCR content in garbage bags and/or plastic carryout bags sold within their jurisdiction.


2 | Green procurement policy

Governmental bodies have significant purchasing power – 13% of total GDP in Canada and 9 % in United States. This power can help drive down costs, but it also presents the opportunity to demand environmentally preferred goods and services. While many green procurement policies will call for the use of recycled content in printing paper, it is less common to see this required in garbage bags. We specifically call upon all levels of government to require their suppliers to source garbage bags with minimum PCR content.

We are proposing a 20% PCR content minimum as a realistic goal that would have a significant impact on how recycled plastic bags are used. While a lower target would be easier for manufacturers to integrate from one day to the next, it would be unlikely to lead to a lasting commitment to use increasing amounts of post-consumer content. We believe that a 20% goal is ambitious enough to require investment to be made in recycling infrastructure. While any commitment to recycled content is certainly a step in the right direction, we believe the industry is ready to handle a more substantial step towards circularity.