Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Plastic Bag Recycling Hype

Hilex Poly makes plastic bags. They make a very large amount of money from making these "free" bags that you find at supermarkets, Big Box stores, and your local take-out shop. They wish to keep making this money.

They know people are sick of seeing littered plastic bags in parking lots, gulleys, roadsides, parks, playgrounds, and wrapped around (or inside) dead creatures.
A dead, starved pelican, beak wrapped tightly in plastic bag
Plastic bag caught around endangered loggerhead turtle
So Hilex Poly has decided that by promoting "recycling," they will win the day over bag bans.

Hence their latest volley in the spin wars: "Hilex Poly Co. leading by example in battle against plastic bag bans."

In it, their PR firm says, with straight face, that "Legislation doesn’t address the plastic waste problem." They describe a system that uses ~32% recycled content (meaning 68% is brand-new virgin plastic) as "closed loop." Among much else.

I've asked them questions, repeatedly. Oddly, they haven't responded. So I'm asking them here:

  • As you well know, industrial film has a very different use history from a consumer shopping bag, in terms of potential contaminants encountered. You say your recycled bags are made of both industrial film & end-user bags. What is the ratio? How much of the recycled resin in your bags is from post-end-user consumers (i.e. actual supermarket bags) and how much from industrial, pre-end-user sources?
  • What is your yield loss due to "kick-out"? What percentage of the post-end-user consumer bags returned from supermarkets ends up unusable for recycling into supermarket bags?
  • Do you recycle bags that already use recycled resin a second time into new food-grade supermarket bags? Or has the resin broken down too far after 1 recycling to use as food-grade again?
  • What percent of your used bags are unrecyclable thanks to post-supermarket user activity (use as trash-basket lining, school lunches, dog-poop containers)?
  • A related question: How clean and untouched by any contaminant must an end-user plastic bag be in order to be recycled as food-grade material?
  • What is the cost of creating a recycled bag compared to creating a virgin-plastic bag? What does a consumer pay in terms of inflated grocery prices to pay for "free" bags? Is that price increased when recycled bags are used?
  • If your average bag has ~1/3 recycled material, then 2/3 of each bag is made with virgin material. If consumers recycled 1 million bags, to use them all in new bags you'd have to make 3 million bags. If those 3 million bags were recycled, to use them all you'd have to make 9 million bags. If 100 billion bags were recycled, to use them all you'd have to make 300 billion bags. Where is the saturation point? At what point do you start getting back too many bags to use in new bags?

I'd like answers. As a consumer, as someone who values the cleanliness & health of the planet, we all deserve the truth. Not spin.

If you would like answers also, please share this blog post with your friends, or on FaceBook, Twitter -- however else you like getting questions answered. I'd be honored for the help.


  1. Thank you! The plastic bag industry has become very good at not answering questions. And very obvious about it. Hopefully a self-defeating strategy.

  2. So I think everyone should use as less plastic, which need to be thrown away after using it, as he can.

    Plastic Recycling