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Pilots shows solutions for recycling plastic wraps and bags

Wednesday, 21/12/2022

95% of the 25 tons of material that was deposited in collection bins at 10 independent grocery stores was recyclable or usable plastic. The pilot project's findings point to the possibility of lowering the quantity of plastic bags and wraps buried in landfills.

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Source: Plastic Firm Recycling

A recent pilot project in the Seattle-King County, Washington area that used drop-off bins at local retailers to recycle plastic wraps and bags shows promising results, according to the county. Because they entangle themselves in machinery at recycling centers, these plastics cannot be recycled in curbside bins. These things are easier to recycle when they are brought to a drop-off place since they are kept separate and clean, which prevents them from ending up in landfills.

The pilot project was sponsored by Dow, Nova, General Mills and PAC Worldwide through the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington. It was directed by Return-It, a nonprofit recycling organization. King County’s Solid Waste Division and Seattle Public Utilities helped promote the pilot. ACC published a summary of the results from the pilot project.

8 grocery stores in King County and two in Kitsap County have drop-off bins for plastic wraps and bags used for groceries, vegetables, bread, dry cleaning, and food storage. Ballard Market, Madrona Grocery Outlet, Marketime Foods, PCC Community Markets, and Town & Country Market were among the participating supermarkets. 

Of the 25 tons of material dropped off in the bins during the five-month pilot, 95 percent could be recycled into new products, a news release from the county notes. By gathering, sorting, and cleaning materials at the retail drop-off locations, local businesses Commercial Waste Reduction and Recycling and Seadrunar Recycling also took part in the program. The plastic was delivered to a processing partner, Merlin Plastics in British Columbia, for processing into recycled plastic pellets once it had been collected and processed.

The findings suggest that additional waste that is not approved for curbside recycling could be recovered and recycled if businesses continue to sponsor convenient recycling at grocery stores and the plastic is properly collected and managed.

“The success of this pilot program shows that polyethylene plastic bags, wraps and other film packaging can be effectively recycled through community drop-offs, helping to meet demand for recycled plastics and reducing waste,” says Shari Jackson, director of Plastics Sustainability at ACC.

"The pilot program confirms that the people of King County want to reduce waste and will recycle more when companies make it convenient,” says Adrian Tan, policy and markets development manager at the King County Solid Waste Division. “It also identifies effective strategies that could significantly cut the amount of plastic film packaging that ends up buried in our landfill each year.”

Although local government initiatives at the city, county, and state levels have dramatically decreased the usage of plastic bags in the area, an estimated 29,000 tons of plastic film packaging will be dumped at the King County Regional Landfill in 2019. King County's new Re+ project aims to reduce waste in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions and make the transition to a sustainable circular economy.

Film packaging should not be placed in curbside trash cans to avoid tangling recycling machinery. Plastic bags and wraps are easier to reclaim or recycle if you bring them to one of the drop-off sites that are still open.

“With interest in extended producer responsibility programs rising around the country to support the increased recycling of plastic and other materials, the greater Seattle-King County pilot offers critical insights into cost-effective strategies that are good for consumers and the planet,” Jackson says. “It shows what we can accomplish when consumers, industry partners, retailers and waste management stakeholders work together.”

According to the county, extended producer responsibility programs, which mandate businesses to guarantee that their products and packaging are responsibly recycled, would promote the expansion of plastic film collection sites across the state.

The drop-off bins were placed at eight grocers in King County and two in Kitsap County. The participating grocers were Ballard Market, Madrona Grocery Outlet, Marketime Foods, PCC Community Markets, and Town & Country Market.



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