Each year, people trash 12 billion tons of flexible plastic packaging, according to the consultancy Resource Recycling Systems. Cheap and ubiquitous, items like grocery, dog food, and snack bags are recyclable in theory but are often made from layers of different materials that are too costly and difficult for recyclers to process. They can tangle sorting equipment, causing damage or delays at sorting plants; they might be too dirty from food scraps or grease to be of any value; and they often get mistaken for paper and baled with the wrong materials, compromising a whole shipment’s worth of recyclables.
It’s easier and cheaper for recyclers to send most flexible plastics to a landfill. But change is afoot as awareness swells around the environmental risks of plastic pollution and people demand meaningful solutions to the waste crisis.
A coalition of plastic producers, recyclers and consumer goods companies have a plan to make it OK for people to throw chip bags and grocery sacks into their home recycling bins along with their household’s milk cartons and detergent bottles. The effort is starting small: A waste management company in Pennsylvania, J.P. Mascaro & Sons, is quietly running a trial of a program to take flexible plastics from curbside recycling pickups and turn them into new products rather than send them to landfills. The company’s sorting facility, TotalRecycle, has partnered with a handful of regional businesses interested in making secondhand plastic packaging into items like floor mats for cars and equipment for drainage systems.
In the coming months, Mascaro’s company will allow a community of 3,000 households to place flexible plastic packaging into the same curbside bins they use for the rest of their recyclables. It’s a project with many hurdles and no guarantee of success, but if it works, the company hopes to roll out the program to another community, then another and another. For a detailed look into this new plan, take a look right here.