With today’s technology, most plastic resins are recyclable—but not all plastic products can be recycled together. Maintaining clean, reliable streams of recycled materials is important to ensure that recycled content is pure. Impurities and contamination in recycled content can impede the performance and durability of future products.
However, more often than not, contamination in the recycling stream results in diversion of otherwise recyclable materials to landfills. ARPBA members recognize the challenge that improperly recycled materials create for material recovery facilities (MRFs), processors, and end users (including bag manufacturers). We believe addressing contamination in the recycling stream requires more communication with consumers and broader education of the general public.
Much of the challenge stems from confusion over labels and the lack of direction on how best to recycle. In the past, plastics have been labeled with a Resin Identification Code (RIC), which consumers use to indicate recyclability. The RIC is also known as the “chasing arrows” symbol—the three arrows forming a triangle with a number in the middle. However, while plastic bags are 100% recyclable, they typically cannot be recycled alongside plastic bottles, containers, and similar items.
Throughout ARPBA’s history, we have worked closely with states and localities on community education programs. Polling and research consistently show that consumers think recycling is important and prefer plastic products that are recyclable and incorporate recycled content. For the industry to meet consumer expectations and our own sustainability commitment, ensuring that plastic bags and film are recycled via the store takeback program is critical. Many communities have seen success with education programs that reiterate keeping plastic bags out of curbside or mixed recycling and instead taking these items back to grocery or retail stores. ARPBA also works with media voices across the country to ensure that information about at-store collection gets incorporated to recycling stories and correcting the record where it does not.
Beyond working directly with consumers and policymakers to improve education and awareness, ARPBA looks forward to reinvigorating its efforts to partner with schools across the United States to help provide materials for educators.
Lessons on recycling, sustainability, and the environment are regular components of classroom instruction in grades K-12 and the industry believes helping provide clear, credible and accurate information around plastic products we all rely on will help today’s students become tomorrow’s better-educated consumers. It is imperative that we ensure that our message of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is reiterated to students around the country.
In addition to working more closely to provide resources to America’s educators, ARPBA also looks forward to reestablishing recycling competitions in school districts across the country, which were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. By encouraging students to collect bags and film for recycling—with the winning schools receiving a new bench made from these materials—classes not only learn about proper recycling in their communities but also can help divert these products from landfills or the environment. And inevitably, students take these lessons home with them and educate their families about the proper place to recycle plastic bags.