Pilot shows potential solutions for recycling plastic wraps and bags, keeping them from tangling equipment at recycling facilities and getting clean material back into the economy
Of the 25 tons of material dropped off at collection bins located at 10 independent grocery stores, 95% was usable plastic that could be recovered or recycled. The results of the pilot project show the potential to reduce the number of plastic wraps and bags that are buried in landfills.
A recent pilot project using drop-off bins at local retailers to recycle plastic wraps and bags shows promising results. These plastics cannot be recycled in curbside bins because they get tangled up in equipment at recycling facilities. Bringing these items to a drop-off location keeps them separate and cleaner, which makes them easier to recycle, putting more material back into the economy instead of burying it in landfills.
Project partners set up drop-off bins for plastic wraps and bags used for groceries, produce, bread, dry cleaning, and food storage – known as film packaging – at 10 independent grocers in the greater Seattle-King County area. Of the 25 tons of material dropped off in the bins during the five-month pilot, 95% was usable plastic that can become new products.
The results indicate that if companies provide ongoing funding for convenient recycling at grocers – and the plastic is properly collected and managed – more material that is not accepted in curbside bins could be recovered and recycled.
The pilot project was sponsored by Dow, NOVA, General Mills, and PAC Worldwide through the American Chemistry Council (ACC). It was directed by Return-It, a nonprofit recycling organization. King County’s Solid Waste Division and Seattle Public Utilities helped promote the pilot. ACC published a summary of the results from the pilot project.
“The success of this pilot program shows that polyethylene plastic bags, wraps, and other film packaging can be effectively recycled through community drop-offs, helping to meet demand for recycled plastics and reducing waste,” said Shari Jackson, Director of Plastics Sustainability at ACC.
"The pilot program confirms that the people of King County want to reduce waste and will recycle more when companies make it convenient,” said Adrian Tan, Policy and Markets Development Manager at the King County Solid Waste Division. “It also identifies effective strategies that could significantly cut the amount of plastic film packaging that ends up buried in our landfill each year.”
While actions at city, county, and state levels have significantly reduced the number of plastic bags used in the region, plastic film packaging is still being thrown in the garbage with an estimated 29,000 tons going to the King County Regional Landfill in 2019. Reducing waste to cut greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a sustainable circular economy is the goal of King County’s new Re+ initiative.
Local companies – Commercial Waste Reduction and Recycling and Seadrunar Recycling – also participated in the program by collecting, sorting, and removing contaminants from material at the retail drop-off locations. Once collected and sorted, the plastic was shipped to processing partner Merlin Plastics in British Columbia, which processed the materials into recycled plastic pellets.
Keeping film packing out of curbside bins prevents it from tangling up equipment at recycling facilities where recyclables from homes and businesses are processed. Bringing plastic wraps and bags to one of the drop-off locations still available makes it easier to recover or recycle.
“With interest in extended producer responsibility programs rising around the country to support the increased recycling of plastic and other materials, the greater Seattle-King County pilot offers critical insights into cost-effective strategies that are good for consumers and the planet,” said Jackson. “It shows what we can accomplish when consumers, industry partners, retailers, and waste management stakeholders work together.”
Extended producer responsibility programs, which require companies to ensure their packaging and products are recycled responsibly, would provide support to expand plastic film collection points throughout the state.
The drop-off bins were placed at eight grocers in King County and two in Kitsap County. The participating grocers were Ballard Market, Madrona Grocery Outlet, Marketime Foods, PCC Community Markets, and Town & Country Market.
- VIDEO: B-roll available to download
- Summary of the results from the pilot project
- Find a plastic film packaging drop-off location near you
The pilot program confirms that the people of King County want to reduce waste and will recycle more when companies make it convenient. It also identifies effective strategies that could significantly cut the amount of plastic film packaging that ends up buried in our landfill each year.
The success of this pilot program shows that polyethylene plastic bags, wraps, and other film packaging can be effectively recycled through community drop-offs, helping to meet demand for recycled plastics and reducing waste.
For more information, contact:
Joseph Basile, King County Solid Waste Division, 206-848-0496
Sabrina Register, Seattle Public Utilities, 206-446-8267