Background

Do plastic bags harm the environment?

When improperly disposed or not recycled, plastic bags become harmful to the environment as litter. With over one billion plastic bags used every day, that equates to about 4 bags for every person in the United States per day. The cost to produce such a quantity is enormous and since both natural gas and petroleum are used to produce these bags, their production uses a large amount of nonrenewable resources. Plastic bags can take many years to degrade and may release toxic chemicals into the soil if they are littered. They also can pose a threat to sea turtles and other marine life that mistake the plastic bags for food.

How can I recycle plastic bags?

Today, only about 3% of plastic bags consumed are being recycled. This is largely due to the limited infrastructure. Few locations take plastic bags for recycling and almost no curbside programs allow plastic bags, however options do exist. For instance, most Kroger, Wal-Mart, and Publix and other grocery stores take plastic bags for recycling at the front of their stores. As an alternative, the stores also sell reusable cloth bags with the store brand on them for around $1 a piece. So there are options!


Related Information

Who else recycles plastic bags?

Many schools and local recycling programs sponsor local drives and events to both recycle plastic bags and educate students about plastic recycling. For example:

Bags to Benches a HUGE Success
Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division partnered with Trex and challenged local schools to collect polyethelene (plastic wrap – grocery bags). The winning school received a bench made from composite lumber provided by Trex. Eleven schools accepted the challenge and collected over 396,561 bags (produced 7 bales weighing 6,280 pounds or 3.14 tons of material). The top producing school was Winterville Elementary school with over 79,951 bags collected. All schools were supplied with collection bins and lumber samples from Trex. Additionally, Trex rewarded all participating students with recycled plastic rulers.

Also, Athens-Clarke County did another program during fall 2007 and collected enough bags for a donation of recycled lumber to build an “animal playground” playscape for the bears, otters, and bobcats at their local zoo. They collected 853,629 bags just in the Athens-Clarke County schools from October to December, not counting the park sites and recycling centers that also took the bags.

What happens to my recycled plastic bags?

Plastic bags are mainly used to make composite lumber. Composite lumber consists of recycled plastic bag and wood scrap such as sawdust and old or broken pallets. Both Trex Company and AERT Inc use the bags in manufacturing composite lumber that lasts longer, is more durable, and is almost maintenance free as compared to other decking materials. It doesn’t need harmful chemicals to treat & preserve it and is also pest resistant and splinter-free. About 50% of the plastic bags recovered for recycling in the US are used by Trex. Composite lumber is sold locally at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Most contractors also have composite lumber options available, so make sure to ask for it when planning outdoor projects like decks, pools, and patios. Composite lumber is used in many outdoor applications for LEED certified building.


Recycling Resources
  • http://www.trex.com/ – Information about Trex composite lumber. They have an easy search database for local contractors of their product.
  • http://www.aert.com – Information about AERT and the history of composite lumber.
  • http://www.plasticbagrecycling.org/ – Gives information about plastic bag recycling and houses a database of plastic bag drop-off sites. Has information for almost everyone: consumers, recyclers, businesses, and retailers.
  • http://www.reusablebags.com/ – Find out about the reusable bag movement. Also has a store for reusable bags and bottles with some interesting designs.