California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Plastics Recycling

Plastic Film Cooperative Recycling Initiative

The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle, formerly the Integrated Waste Management Board or CIWMB) is leading a cooperative initiative, begun in 2005, to increase plastic film recycling in California. Local governments, companies, organizations, and individuals involved in plastic film manufacture, sale, use, and recycling were invited to participate in this initiative by joining one of the two workgroups described below, and/or by committing to begin or expand activities involving film recycling.

Problem Statement

CalRecycle has identified the need for increased plastic film recycling as a priority problem for the following reasons:

  • The results of the 2004 Waste Characterization Study document that the volume of plastic film in California’s waste stream is growing. The Board estimated that nearly 3.4 billion pounds of film are disposed annually (about 97 pounds per capita), about 4.3 percent of the state’s overall waste stream by weight, or 8 to 10 percent by volume. In addition, film plastic comprises about 45 percent, or 1.7 million tons, of all disposed plastic in California.
  • Plastic film, especially grocery bags, constitutes a high percentage of litter, which is unsightly, costly to clean up, especially when it enters marine environments, and causes serious negative impacts to shore birds and sea life. Because it easily becomes airborne in light winds, plastic film is a particularly burdensome litter nuisance in general and specifically to landfill and waste facility operators.
  • Recycling rates for plastic film are very low. Currently, the Board estimates that less than 5 percent of plastic film in California is recycled.
  • Production of plastic film from virgin resources consumes petroleum and other natural resources. Very little recycled material is used to produce film, although increasing recycled content can reduce the use of energy and other scarce natural resources.

Meeting Information from 2006

Background

The Board (now CalRecycle) has been working for the past year with representatives of the plastic industry and other interested parties to collect data on the current state of film plastic generation, disposal, export, and recycling. This effort has identified two priority areas to focus on: residentially and commercially generated plastic film and agriculturally generated film. The table below summarizes the key barriers and opportunities to increase recycling of plastic film generated in these sectors. More detailed information is available from CalRecycle staff.

Current Infrastructure and Key Barriers to Expanding Plastic Film Recycling

Generator Sector Current Infrastructure Key Barriers
Residential
  • A few California cities and counties include film in curbside programs.
  • Approximately 1,150 grocery store drop-off programs are listed in plasticbagrecycling.org.
  • A few materials recovery facilities (MRF) separate plastic film from mixed recyclables or mixed garbage.
  • Market demand sufficient to cover significantly increased recovery.
  • Municipal recycling coordinators uncertain of cost/benefit of film recycling.
  • Need to expand number of grocery store programs and promote them much better.
  • Need for expanded public education and promotion.
  • Need to educate MRF operators on how to collect bags without clogging sort lines.
  • Need to encourage increased recovery from MRFs.
Commercial
  • Some commercial businesses (e.g., grocers-retailers) offer film recycling to their customers.
  • A small number of businesses collect and/or transport other film for recycling.
  • Market demand sufficient.
  • Need to expand recovery in high generation business types (e.g., distribution/warehouses, retail/malls, dry cleaners).
  • Need to improve economic benefits of collection for some business types.
  • Need for education and promotion of commercial film recycling.
Agricultural
  • A small number of pilot projects are underway in California to collect agricultural film.
  • Little or no in-state washing capacity.
  • Very few collection or consolidation points to facilitate collection.
  • Need for increased in-state wash line capacity.
  • Need to develop cost efficient and convenient collection mechanisms and consolidation points.
  • Need to educate and promote film recycling to farmers.

Project

CalRecycle proposes to help catalyze increased film recycling by working cooperatively with companies, organizations, and individuals involved in plastic film manufacture, sales, use and recycling. CalRecycle envisions a three-phase effort as outlined below.

Target Dates Milestones/Objectives
Oct. 11, 2005 Workshop to announce and invite participation in the initiative.
Phase 1:
Oct.–Dec. 2005
Secure participation by key companies and organizations.
Phase 2:
Jan.–June 2006
Plan and develop implementation projects and programs.
Two workgroups meet approximately monthly to develop recommendations and to design specific implementation projects. If workgroup has time to begin project implementation, they are encouraged to do so. (See workgroup objectives below.)
Phase 3:
July 2006–June 2009
Implementation of voluntary recommendations and implementation projects.
Short term (6 months–1 year)
Long term (1–3 years)
Beginning July 2009 Annually review progress and determine next steps and objectives for future efforts.

Work Group 1: Residential And Commercial Film Recycling

Examples of Key Discussion Issues

  • How can we reduce the amount of film plastic disposed?
  • How can we increase the purchase of recycled products made from recovered film plastics and create other markets for film?
  • How can we create economic incentives to improve markets for film plastics among government, consumers, manufacturers, retailers, and other key parties?
  • How can we educate key parties on strategies to increase recycling activities?
  • What are potential solutions for film disrupting the MRF sorting lines?
  • What are the real or perceived barriers and benefits for recycling film plastics?

Examples of Possible Implementation Programs and Projects

  • Increase the acceptance of film plastic in curbside recycling programs, and establish new bag-in-bag, single-stream collection programs in select jurisdictions.
  • Conduct targeted education and outreach campaigns in select jurisdictions to promote taking film back to grocery stores.
  • Develop model buy-recycled policy statements and/or other market development initiatives promoting recycled-content plastic products to increase market demand and "pull" on film.

Work Group 2: Agricultural Recycling

Examples of Key Discussion Issues

  • What factors are most important to determining when and where agricultural film is most feasible?
  • Which geographic regions and agricultural sectors should be selected as top priorities for implementation projects and other efforts to promote new recycling activity?
  • What information and dissemination avenues will most effectively encourage farmers and service providers to increase agricultural film recycling?
  • What are the most critical barriers to expanding agricultural film recycling and how can they be overcome? How should roles and responsibilities be assigned to ensure that these barriers can be overcome?

Examples of Possible Implementation Programs and Projects

  • Secure involvement in the initiative from key statewide groups that are instrumental to promoting agricultural film plastic recycling.
  • Identify geographic areas and agricultural sectors with the highest potential for successful recycling programs, and design at least two implementation projects involving new services, consolidation points and education/promotion to expand recycling levels.
  • Provide and coordinate assistance and information to secure commitments from at least one firm to site new wash line facilities for agricultural film.
  • Develop and disseminate educational and promotional information to encourage increased agricultural film recycling.