Good Guidance on Recycling Bags When Curbside Isn’t Working

Plastic Packaging Perspectives

sandi childsEditor’s note: This guest post is by Sandi Childs, Director of Film and Flexible Programs for APR, the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers

In case you missed it, Bowie Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC with a population of just over 56,000, announced that their curbside recycling program would no longer be accepting plastic bags. In a piece May 28, 2014 in the Maryland Gazette, the city explained that bags can damage recycling equipment and often blow out of curbside bins, which residents – who are trying to do the right thing – often don’t know. But what was striking, and ultimately encouraging, about Bowie’s announcement was that they didn’t leave it at that. Solid Waste Superintended Melvin Thompson went on to provide residents with a solution. He urged the citizens of Bowie to utilize their plastic bag take-back network, provided by retail stores, and directed them to the zip-code locator at to find a nearby store to drop-off their bags. Places like Lowe’s, Walmart, Target, Kroger and many other retailers have recycling bins at the front of the store to collect these polyethylene (PE) plastic bags. Even better, not only can residents recycle grocery bags, but also can include additional PE film packages such as bread bags, produce bags, dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, as well as product overwraps around diapers, paper towels and bathroom tissue. We commend Bowie for providing residents with solutions oriented information.

By participating in retail recycling, residents supply recyclers with valuable material. According to a recent report by Moore Recycling, the recycling of postconsumer plastic film packaging surged 116 million pounds, or 11 percent, in 2013 to reach a reported 1.14 billion pounds. In fact, there’s been a 74% increase in polyethylene film recycling since 2005, when industry first began collecting the data.

This type of plastic goes in to a range of products including durable composite lumber for outdoor decks and fencing, home building products, lawn and garden products, crates, pipe, and film for new plastic packaging.

Steering residents to the retail network for plastic film collection is a great way to explain to residents that film plastics are equally recyclable as any material in their curbside bin. And, recycling these valuable products is as easy as a trip to your grocery store. There are more than 18,000 drop off bins across the country, and with national chain retail participation, there is almost always a drop-off location nearby. Bowie’s announcement solves their problem, without putting a dent in recovery efforts. That’s a message we’d love to see more municipalities “recycle.”

Sandi Childs is leading APR’s efforts to expand PE bag and film recovery to supply the needs of APR’s members, and to educate consumers about the recyclability of film plastics. Prior to APR, Sandi worked for Coca-Cola Recycling as a Recovery Development Manager for eight years. Sandi started her career recycling PET plastics, as Recycling Manager for Southeastern Container and then as Eastern Regional Director for NAPCOR. Sandi has a BS in Human Ecology from Ramapo College of New Jersey and a Masters in Environmental Science from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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.