Different resins and colors make plastic film difficult to recycle.
Plastic film is a thin gauge packaging medium used as a bag or a wrap. Examples include grocery sacks, trash bags, drycleaner bags and plastic wrap. Plastic film is less than ten mils in thickness, with an average of 0.7 - 1.5 mils (a mil is 0.001 inch). Most plastic trash bags are less than 1.0 mil in thickness. Individual bags are light in weight. For instance, 70 t-shirt bags weigh one pound. A 500-square-foot plastic lumber deck made with 2x6 lumber uses 140,000 bags.
Plastic film provides 6 percent of all packaging, 43 percent of plastic packaging and 17.5 percent of all plastic in the waste stream. Flexible packaging includes plastic film, paper bags, aluminum foil and cellophane. More than half of flexible packaging is plastic. Paper packages make up most of the rest, with aluminum foil supplying a small percentage.
Different resins and colors make plastic film difficult to recycle. More than 55 percent of plastic film uses low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or linear LDPE resin and approximately half of plastic film is pigmented.
Many films also blend or coextrude two or more resins. Also, individual product characteristics may create remanufacturing problems. For instance, stretch wrap requires a “tackifier” to make the wrap cling, yet this product quality is not desired in a bag.
Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. E-mail him at: [email protected].
Burned or Landfilled:
Raw Material Specifications:
American Plastics Council, www.americanchemistry.com
Flexible Packaging Association, www.flexpack.org
“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, www.epa.gov/msw
“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recyling Coalition, Washington, www.nrc-recycle.org
*Data is from 2008 EPA estimates, except where noted.