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How plastic bags get recycled

There has been a great deal of debate in recent months regarding the banning of plastic grocery bags and the efficacy of this policy. Earlier this year we discussed the merits of paper vs. plastic bags in  Should plastic bags be banned? 

Supporters of a ban argue that plastic bags are extremely harmful to the environment. They are usually made of polyethelene, which is a petroleum or natural gas based product… fossil fuels which are being rapidly depleted.  Furthermore, most plastic bags are not biodegradable, and even those that are promoted as being biodegradable can take up to 200 years to break down. And then there’s the difficulty with getting people to actually recycle them. Of the 89 billion plastic bags used in the U.S. each year. the EPA reports that we only recycle about 13% of them. Many end up as roadside or coastal litter which is not only unsightly, but can also be dangerous to wildlife.

The American Chemistry Council promotes recycling as the answer. They base their argument on the following plastic facts:

  • Plastic bags require 70% less energy to manufacture than paper bags.
  • Pound for pound it takes 91% less energy to recycle plastic than paper.
  • Manufacturing plastic bags takes only 4% of the water required to manufacture paper bags.
  • 65% of Americans reuse their plastic bags.

The one thing both sides can agree on is that we need to recycle the plastic bags we use. The truth is that plastic bags are fully recyclable with little or no plastic waste involved in the process. If we can get consumers to be responsible in their use and recycle them properly we can eliminate many of the concerns associated with them.

Earth911 TV has produced an educational video on plastic bag recycling. They toured the Hilex Poly plant in North Vernon, Indiana, to see how it’s done. Take a few minutes to view this film and see the process in action. You may just decide that the American Chemistry Council is right!


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