OTTAWA – Twenty-seven organizations have called for urgent government action to help deal with the global plastic problem. The industry-led “Recycle More Bags” coalition proposes using legislative action and procurement policy to drive demand for a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled content in some types of plastic bags by 2025.
The United States and Canada have been largely dependent on foreign markets for recycling plastic bags and similar plastic grades, like plastic wrap. Foreign demand for these products has decreased markedly in recent years, primarily as a result of China’s “National Sword Policy,” which banned the import of many recyclables.
“Plastic bags are one plastic item that we consistently receive through curbside recycling programs, and that we consistently send to landfill. We need content laws to drive demand,” said Tom Outerbridge, General Manager, Sims Municipal Recycling.
The North American recycling industry is now more dependent than ever on the health of domestic plastic film recycling end-markets. However, these domestic markets have long been impeded by the continued expansion of domestic oil and gas activity and the low-cost virgin plastic resins that are produced as co-products.
According to More Recycling, a company that tracks plastic recycling year over year in the United States and Canada, the amount of bags and wrap collected through at-store recycling programs has grown, but that growth is expected to slow or reverse if the dynamics in the marketplace continue. There is a need to recognize the value of using recycled resin in new products to mitigate plastic pollution and to encourage the expansion of the North American circular economy.
The Recycle More Bags coalition consists of stakeholders involved in the plastic recycling industry: industry associations, material recovery facility (MRF) operators, plastic reclaimers, municipalities, environmental non-profits, recycling consultants, and a film plastic stewardship organization. The coalition’s signatories, who are situated at various steps along the circular economy supply chain, see a need for government to mandate an increased use of recycled resin in plastic bags. At this pivotal moment, government intervention is essential to encourage continued uptake of recycled resins by the plastic film industry, which has been slowed by low pricing of virgin plastics.
The call-to-action proposes a progressive timeline to increase the use of post-consumer recycled content in garbage bags and grocery bags. The vast majority of these two types of plastic bags are made from 100 percent virgin plastic resin. Incentivizing – and where needed, requiring – a minimum level of recycled content in these two applications will replace large amounts of virgin material and support the dual goals of increasing plastic recycling rates while ensuring plastic bags are managed in an environmentally responsible manner.
Increased demand for recycled plastic resin would in turn create greater incentive for effective and efficient recycling of plastic products, expediting the shift to a circular economy and improved environmental outcomes. For example, if all plastic bags sold in the United States and Canada included 20 percent recycled content, carbon emissions savings of about 320,000 metric tonnes per year – the equivalent of the removal of 250,000 cars from the road – would result.