Update: Increase in recycling rates for polyethylene plastic bags, sacks and wraps in 2010

Since we first reported that recycling rates increased for polyethylene plastic bags, sacks and wraps to 15 percent in 2010 according to the latest EPA Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States report, a number of questions have been raised about interpreting the EPA data.

Most importantly, the report monitors allhigh-densityy polyethylene (HDPE) bag, sack and wrap waste, not just plastic retail bag waste. The monitored HDPE bag, sack and wrap subset also includes:

  • Coextruded mixed films and pouches
  • News paper bags
  • Produce bags
  • Protective packaging for electronics
  • Bakery sheets and films

Plastic retail bags are a subset of the HDPE bag, sack and wrap waste that is monitored, which explains why the data does not include a reported rate for only plastic retail bags but rather bags, sacks and wraps. Because of this, the recycling rate is not indicative of any subset and therefore can fluctuate. Plastic retail bags are the only subset within the HDPE bag, sack and wrap subset that has an accepted recycling system, so the sack and wrap subset water down the recovery percentage of plastic bags. Scientifically the HDPE bag sack and wrap recycling rate cannot be directly attributed to plastic retail bags, but can best be considered an “at least” percentage. As an industry we very carefully monitor overall polyethylene (PE) bag, sack, and wrap recycling rates and only report on overall category rates, focusing on trends and not pounds since the streams are all reported in aggregate.

At Hilex Poly we are proud of the great progress our industry has made over the past 10 years, but realize there is still more we can do to improve the recycling rates of PE plastic bags, sacks, and wraps. In 2012, pledge to reduce, reuse and recycle at your closest recycling location!