Plastic Bag Use and Sustainability: Questions from a Public Policy College Student

Hilex Poly is a leader in the plastic bag recycling and manufacturing industries and operator of the largest closed loop plastic bag recycling facility in the world. It was no wonder that a public policy college student contacted me a few weeks ago asking about our process and our thoughts on sustainability. She was interested in our operations at Hilex and our subsequent impact on the environment.

She first asked me what Hilex, as a company, believes are the best reasons to use plastic bags. I explained that Hilex believes that plastic bags, a 100 percent recyclable and reusable product, are a better choice for the environment, the consumer and the American economy. First, many shoppers are currently unaware that other types of grocery bags, including paper bags, take more resources and energy to produce. Similarly, reusable bags are not recyclable, are often imported from foreign countries and can contain harmful levels of lead and bacteria when they are not properly selected, stored or cleaned. Second, according to an APCO study, 90 percent of people reuse at least some of their plastic bags for household chores, lunch bags, bin liners and pet waste, so plastic bags are actually used in multiple ways after leaving the grocery store. Last, using plastic bags supports an American industry with over 30,000 employees across the country. These jobs are especially important during the current economic time and Hilex believes in creating initiatives that value, rather than punish the hard work of these American employees.

She then asked me how Hilex is working to be more sustainable. I was happy to explain that Hilex has a Bag-2-Bag recycling program that aims to make plastic bag recycling easier and more convenient for consumers. In fact, our company has partnered with retailers across the country to establish over 30,000 plastic bag drop-off bins where shoppers can bring back their plastic bags, wraps and sacks for recycling. Hilex then uses these materials to create new plastic bags out of the recycled material.

However, we understand that recycling fundamentally depends on a working relationship between plastic bag recyclers and consumers. Education is increasingly important – the more we can educate the public on the ability to recycle plastic bags, the more recycled content we can use in manufacturing our bags. Every year we aim to increase the percentage of recycled content we use in our plastic bags. In fact, from 2010 to 2011, Hilex increased its use of post-consumer recycled content by 15%. Even more exciting, the average recycled content included in all Hilex products is now 30%, growing 5% year over year in 2011. For more information on Hilex’s recycled content use, take a look at this recent blog post by Mark Daniels, Vice President of Sustainability & Environmental Policy for Hilex Poly, which discusses the information in more detail.