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Recyclers Say Plastic Bag Bans Should Be Trashed
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August 05, 2013

Recyclers Say Plastic Bag Bans Should Be Trashed

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

While most municipal landfills don’t want to be left “holding the bag”—meaning, the one-use plastic shopping bag, which could take decades to decompose—the U.S. recycling industry has a $930 million annual stake in exporting plastic scrap and also recycles 4.5 billion pounds of post-consumer plastic domestically each year.

So you can see why the industry’s trade group, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) might not be happy about the sudden nationwide popularity of banning or imposing fees on the use of plastic grocery bags.

At its July board meeting, the ISRI approved a policy on bans and fees for recyclable paper and plastic bags that:

  • Promotes a free and fair, competitive, market-based system for the trade of recyclable materials such as paper and plastic bags;
  • Supports a competitive marketplace that does not restrict, direct, or interfere with the free flow of recyclable material;
  • Opposes bans and fees on paper and plastic bags that are being manufactured into useful commodity grade materials and sold into viable, commercial markets without subsidies or noncompetitive, fixed pricing;.
  • Advocates the proper recycling and economic opportunities associated with the collection, processing, and reuse in finished products such as paper and plastic bags; and
  • Supports requiring retailers to provide convenient collection for recycling of plastic bags offered in their stores.

 “ISRI members that recycle paper and plastic bags are quite concerned that policymakers are banning bags and creating fees without considering the real impact on recycling, and the recycling industry. No matter how good theintentions, these policy discussions should not be made in a vacuum,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “Rather than bans and fees that take away jobs and increase costs to consumers, policy makers should take advantage ofthe great economic and environmental opportunities associated with responsibly recycling these bags.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plastic recycling results in significant energy savings—an estimated 50-75 million Btus per ton of material recycled. What’s more, more than three-quarters—about 77 percent— of paper mills rely on recovered fiber to make some or all of their products, thanks in part to recovered paper’s significant cost and energy savings. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees, 79 gallons of oil, 7,000 gallons of water, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space. 

“Policymakers and consumers are often surprised to learn the important economic role that paper and plastic bags play in the continuous life-cycle of paper and plastic products,” said Joel Litman, president of Texas

Recycling/Surplus, Inc., and ISRI’s Paper Stock Industries Chapter. “Our company is designed to recycle these bags into valuable commodity grade materials that are then sold to manufacturing plants to make finished products around the globe. This is a win-win for the local economy and the environment.”

ISRI’s new policy also encourages retailers to provide convenient collection for plastic bags.”Many retailers have convenient bag collection programs in place that provide a valuable revenue stream. Increased efforts by retailers to collect and recycle used bags will offer the convenience paper and plastic bags provide while reaping the environmental and economic benefits of recycling. In 2011, an estimated 151 million pounds of bags and sacks were collected for recycling and increased 19 percent over 2010,” states the ISRI.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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