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Recycling Plastic Bags
If you were listening to the end of today's show about a proposed ban on plastic bags, you heard a contentious (and confusing) last few minutes about recycling. It started when state senator Mark Haas argued that plastic bags — because they're so strong — can't be recycled.
Stephen Joseph of SaveThePlasticBag.com responded:
Why don't you go to a plastic bag recycling plant and watch them recycling plastic bags? All of the plastic bags that are put in recycling bins in stores in California are purchased by recyclers and either turned into new plastic bags or into plastic decks. Go and look at Trex and AERT. They are major purchasers, along with Hilex, of the plastic bags in our recycling bins.
And then everyone was talking at once. After a brief verbal skirmish, we heard Senator Haas:
That is just not true.... [There is no recycler in] Oregon that's capable of recycling those things. And they are crying out for this ban because it is putting them out of business. They cannot, at least with these giant sorting machines, at least not yet, recycle these plastic bags.
At this point, it became clear that Haas and Joseph were arguing about different things. Joseph was talking about the national market for recycled plastic bags; Haas was focused on Oregon's current recycling infrastructure.
To learn more, I followed up with Jerry Powell. He's the editor and publisher of Resource Recycling Magazine, and follows the entire industry very closely. (He's also also been a guest on our show.) He was largely in agreement with Stephen Joseph.
First of all, on the basic question of whether or not plastic bags can be recycled, he gave an emphatic yes. And he mentioned the same companies that we heard about from Joseph, including Trex, which makes decking, and HilexPoly, which makes plastic bags.
As for what happens to bags that are collected in Oregon, he gave two examples off the top of his head. Portland-based Enviro-Fiber buys and bales plastic bags for resale to recyclers. And a Seattle-based guy sources plastic bags for Trex from B.C. all the way down to Medford.
There was one point that — perhaps — everyone can agree on: Powell told me that the rates for plastic bag recycling are very low.
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