Talking Plastic Packaging Recycling and More

Steve Russell

One highlight of the National Plastics Expo 2015 was a sit down with Plastics News’ Joe Pryweller. We discussed some of the biggest issues we work on, as an industry—driving growth in recycling rates, marine debris, waste to energy technologies and, a new global endeavor for broader industry cooperation, the newly formed, World Plastics Council.  Check out the video here.

Recovering the Value of Plastic Packaging, One Bag at a Time

Erica Ocampo

Plastic recycling continues to grow year after year, but despite many efforts to increase overall recycling in the country, over half of our municipal solid waste ends up in landfills.

This reveals an opportunity to improve resource management and end-of-life options. For plastics specifically, it is possible to increase recycling rates and convert non-recycled
plastics into energy and other valuable products. By integrating plastics recycling with plastics-to-energy programs, we can divert more plastics from landfills and make the most of our resources.

Energy Recovery and the Energy Bag ProgramThe Dow Chemical Company’s Energy Bag Program  set out to do just that. The three-month pilot was designed to collect plastics not currently accepted by existing curbside recycling programs and convert those plastics into synthetic crude oil using pyrolysis (a process that heats the plastics without oxygen to convert them into a gas state, then cools and condenses the gases into products such as crude oil). Program partners included Republic Services, Agilyx, the Flexible Packaging Association and the city of Citrus Heights, California.

The Energy Bag Program sought to answer five specific questions:

  • Will people participate?
  • Will people follow the provided instructions and place the recommended non-recycled plastics (NRP) inside the Energy Bag?
  • Can the NRP be effectively collected using the existing curbside recycling infrastructure?
  • Can the NRP be effectively sorted at the recycling facility?
  • Is the NRP collected suitable for pyrolysis?
Energy Bag Program

Energy Bag in curbside recycling bin

The program used existing infrastructure to make it easy for residents and collection companies to participate. Nearly 26,000 residents of single-family households serviced by Republic Services in Citrus Heights, CA, were asked to place non-recycled plastic packaging and other plastic items not included in the city’s existing curbside recycling program into the provided bright purple Energy Bags. These plastics included items such as juice pouches, snack wrappers and cheese packages.

Once the bags were full, residents placed the purple bags into their recycling bins. The content of the recycling bins was collected and transported to Republic’s Newby Island Resource Recovery Park Recyclery. The purple bags were manually separated from the rest of the recyclables at the front end of the recycling line, and a random sample of their contents was characterized. Finally, the collected Energy Bags were bundled into an “Energy Bale” for shipment to Agilyx’s Tigard-based plastics-to-oil facility, where the non-recycled plastics were converted into synthetic fuel oil using pyrolysis technology.

Initial Results of the Energy Bag Program

During the three-month program, there were six collection cycles resulting in:

  • Nearly 8,000 purple Energy Bags collected
  • Approximately 6,000 pounds of typically non-recycled items diverted from landfills
  • 512 gallons of synthetic crude oil produced from the conversion
  • 30 percent citizen participation at some point during the pilot
  • 78 percent of citizens said they would be likely to participate if given another chance

As you can see, initial results of the program were extremely positive. Residents who participated in the pilot program placed the requested materials in the Energy Bags, and felt good about reducing their landfill waste. Their participation also helped reinforce which types of plastics can and should be recycled in Citrus Heights. (You can read full results on Dow’s website.)

Since the program launched, additional communities have expressed interest in starting their own pilot programs. Additionally, other companies have expressed interest in program partnerships. By conducting pilot programs and continuing to educate consumers about the energy potential non-recycled plastics hold, we could help increase landfill diversion of valuable materials and change the way we think about waste.

The Future of Recovering Non-Recycled Plastics for Energy

As with any resource management program, collaboration is key. Dow was fortunate to have valuable partners in the City of Citrus Heights, Republic Services, the Flexible Packaging Association and Agilyx, which were all committed to the pilot’s success.

However, this was just one pilot. We would like to see this type of program expand to communities across the country. To do that, we need everyone from communities, material suppliers, manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, the waste and recycling industry and non-governmental organizations to play a part.

Together, we can educate policy makers and the public about this untapped opportunity to divert valuable resources from landfills.

For more information about the Energy Bag Pilot Program or to learn how to bring the program to a community near you, view the full report  on Dow’s website or contact Erica Ocampo of The Dow Chemical Company at

Polyethylene Film Recycling Program Saves Resources and Diverts from Landfills

Plastic Packaging Perspectives

Polyethylene Film Recycling

It all began with one dry cleaner’s call-to-action—a request to their garment bag provider, N.S. Farrington, to find a solution, and recycle the polyethylene film garment bags customers returned to the store.  Farrington responded by developing and implementing a plastic bag and film recycling program in 2010.  The effort has now expanded to well over 100 stores throughout Farrington’s distributor network in North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, and Georgia– and it won’t stop there.  Farrington’s Chief Executive Officer Clint Harris says, “our poly recycling program, which started as a pilot with a few customers in North Carolina, is now being offered to our customers in five states as we work toward one hundred percent customer participation.”

Commitment to Polyethylene Film Recycling Pays

Recently, N.S. Farrington reported diverting and recycling more than 10 tons of recyclable polyethylene film this year, saving natural resources and valuable landfill space.  Ten tons of recycled PE film saves 6,850 gallons of oil and 2,700 cubic feet of landfill space. A great part of Farrington’s recent success has been in-sourcing their polyethylene film recycling system. They now process and bale the plastics collected directly from their customers. This recycled film is then sold to an industry-leading manufacturer of plastic decking products.

Film Recycling Continues to Grow

Nationally, the recycling of plastic film topped one billion pounds for the first time in 2012, according to the latest report—and film recycling has grown 56 percent since just 2005.  The quickly climbing growth rate is thanks, in part, to efforts by enthusiastic organizations like N.S. Farrington.  Read more about Farrington’s efforts and results in their recent press release and case study.  Learn what it took for this company to get their polyethylene film recycling program off the ground.  They’re pretty proud of making a difference!

I Want To Be Recycled

Plastic Packaging Perspectives

Bench_I want to be recycled

This is a guest blog post written by Christina Kiernan, Manager, Marketing Communications at Keep America Beautiful.

Imagine a water bottle that dreams of becoming a pair of jeans, a steel can that hopes to
someday be transformed into a bicycle, or a plastic shampoo bottle that believes that, one day, it could become a park bench. These are some of the many destinies that could be fulfilled if more Americans took time to do one thing: recycle their plastic packaging and other materials.

A public service advertising (PSA) campaign introduced by the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful (KAB) aims to inspire the nearly two in three Americans* who do not recycle regularly to make recycling a part of their daily lives. Despite increased visibility of public recycling receptacles and increased curbside programs, levels of recycling have plateaued at less than 35 percent.[1]

The I Want To Be Recycled campaign aims to motivate Americans to recycle every day.
Created by San Francisco-based ad agency Pereira & O’Dell, the campaign artfully shows that recyclable materials can be given another life when someone chooses to recycle. Showing that a plastic bottle, metal can or other recyclable item has dreams to become something new is a very powerful yet simple way to deliver the message.

The I Want To Be Recycled campaign made its public debut in July 2013 and includes TV, radio, outdoor, online, social and mobile PSAs.  The American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division is a founding sponsor of the campaign.

TV spots include both English and Spanish language versions. The English-language campaign directs audiences to, while the new Spanish PSAs drive to

In its first year, the recycling campaign secured more than $50 million in donated media. It gained the most donated media amongst all Ad Council campaigns in Q1 of 2014. Cities are also joining in on the campaign. These include Austin, Chicago, Akron, and Madison, among others. Waste haulers are wrapping their trucks with the campaign graphics. Grocery outlets are putting our I Want To Be Recycled logos on their cardboard boxes.

Visit to get a behind-the-scenes look at how trash can be
transformed through recycling. While you are there, learn about common recycling myths, and get details about recycling locations near you. Then, share it with everyone you know.  Post it to your Facebook page, tweet it to your followers.  Urge your company to post links to it on the organization’s website.

Follow our recycling conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #berecycled or like Keep America Beautiful on Facebook.

[1] United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) 2012 Municipal Solid Waste Report

*38% or respondents to Ad Council survey, prior to campaign launch, said they were “avid recyclers”, recycling as much as possible and willing to go out of their way to do so.


Christina Kiernan joined the communications department at Keep America Beautiful in September 2012. Christina has key accountabilities for the successful “I Want To Be Recycled” campaign as well as for the development and execution of comprehensive KAB strategies & messaging for various social media platforms.

Marine Debris Solutions: An Essential Solution to Halting Marine Debris Buildup

Rachael Miller

If plastic bags were made of gold, we certainly wouldn’t throw them away. We wouldn’t watch them drift down the street and into storm drains. We wouldn’t let them float into harbors and, from there, into the ocean.

Of course, plastic bags aren’t gold.  And yet, they also have value. Plastic packaging of all sorts can be recycled into new materials and products. They are too valuable to waste, but that’s what we often do, discard them mindlessly and starting them on journeys that end in vast fields of marine debris.

Marine debris solutions: How the packaging community plays a role

The packaging and recycling communities can play a key role in keeping plastic packaging out of the marine environment. Active plastic recycling and recovery, particularly near coastal areas, is critical to keeping valuable resources out of the ocean. At Rozalia Project, we are dedicated to promoting a clean, protected, and thriving ocean, and my recent presentation at TEDxLowell, “We Can Clean the Ocean,” which you can watch now at the link, shared our findings on the glut of marine debris and how plastic recovery and recycling can help minimize the devastation.

When we think of marine debris, many of us picture the oft-reported and consistently hyperbolized garbage patches spinning in the giant oceanic surface currents known as gyres. But as you’ll see in the TEDxLowell video, the problem begins at the shore, in harbors and waterways cluttered with a stream of trash that amasses in almost unfathomable quantities. Once ocean debris reaches the water, two factors complicate clean-up – the need to separate out organic matter, and the degradation of plastics into smaller and smaller pieces that we just can’t collect.

A great deal of effort to resolve this issue has concentrated on the gyres, but the more Marine Debris Solutions: Rachael Millerattainable solution is here at the land-sea interface. We can make measurable strides by keeping debris out of coastal harbors and waterways in the first place. Through recovery and recycling of plastic packaging here on land, we can heighten our impact considerably by capturing the materials before they break up out at sea – and just as importantly, keep many of those materials in an active, useful loop rather than sending them to landfills.

How the value chain can help

The recycling and packaging industries can play a key role through several steps:

  • Responsibly reduce the amount of packaging used in the first place. Innovations in plastic are facilitating the creation of more efficient packaging, requiring less packaging material. The industry can create 100% recyclable packaging out of 100% recycled material and encourage recycling of products at the end of their lifecycles.
  • Invest in more waste-to-energy solutions. Huge advances are being made by diverting material from non-recycled plastics into valuable energy.
  • Help communities provide easy access to trash and recycling bins, and make sure they’re emptied faster than they’re filled. We’ve all seen those public trash cans and plastic recycling bins filled to overflowing. When recyclables spill onto the ground, that’s not recycling anymore.
  • Support educational programs to boost awareness about recycling and recovery of packaging and keeping it out of the marine environment.
  • Sponsor local clean-ups to recover material along beaches, waterways and coastal harbors.

It’s time to highlight these conversations among key audiences – consumers, the packaging value chain, and the recycling community – that will drive changes in behavior. My TEDxLowell video lays out the issue, including images that illustrate the vast scope of the problem.. A solution is where the land meets the sea, and every bit matters.