Why focus on plastic bags?
In theory, plastic bags are made of a highly recyclable resin that could be recycled many times without losing material integrity. In reality, most plastic bags in use today will not go on to a second life through recycling. The lack of demand for high-value applications for plastic resin created from recycled plastic bags has stunted the development of the plastic bag recycling industry in North America. For years, recycled plastic bags have been limited to more durable end-use applications such as composite lumber. Use of recycled content in more sensitive, high-performance applications, like plastic bags, has been rare. This limited demand, in turn, has meant limited investment in processing capacity to convert recycled bags back into a resin product that can be used in manufacturing.
While there are challenges to creating new plastic bags with recycled content, there is no doubt that it can be done. For example, Ontario-based EFS-plastics Inc. has been supplying 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic resin to manufacturers like Inteplast Group to create plastic bags with recycled content ranging from 10-25% PCR content. While Inteplast Group has made a commitment to invest in recycling, their dedication is not yet the industry standard. We believe a recycled content mandate would encourage other producers to follow what EFS-plastics, Inteplast Group and others have already shown is possible.
In today’s culture, plastic bags have gained notoriety for being a symbol of pollution and wastefulness. In a 2017 Ocean Conservancy Report on coastal cleanups, they found that plastic bags are among the top ten most common items found littering shorelines. Creating a strong market demand for PCR plastic bags could help reduce their presence as pollution. Including recycled content in plastic bags would also significantly reduce carbon emissions, as 1 tonne of recycled plastic is approximately equivalent to a reduction in 1.45 tonnes of carbon emissions. For example, if all plastic bags sold in the Canadian marketplace used 20% recycled content, carbon emissions would be reduced by 38,100 tonnes per year – the equivalent of 29,700 cars taken off the road.