Reporting period: Jan. 1, 2009-Dec. 31, 2009

Summary

The 2009 statewide recycling rate for regulated plastic carryout bags is about 3 percent. During this reporting period, regulated stores (defined below) purchased about 53,000 tons of regulated plastic carryout bags and collected just over 1,500 tons of these bags for recycling. The recycling rate was calculated by dividing the total amount of regulated bags collected for recycling by the total amount purchased.

The recycling rate calculation is based on data from the annual reports submitted by regulated stores as modified by the results of the California State University at Sacramento’s “2010 Characterization Study to Determine the Plastic Carryout Bag Commingled Recycling Rates” (CSUS Characterization Study). Many of the largest store chains declined to participate in the CSUS Characterization Study, which limits the representativeness of the data as well as the accuracy of the statewide recycling rate.

Background

California’s At-Store Recycling Program was established in 2006 by the passage of AB 2449 (Levine, Chapter 845, Statutes of 2006). This law applies to supermarkets (with gross annual sales of $2 million or more and that sells a line of dry groceries, canned goods, non-food items, or perishable goods) and other retail establishments (that have over 10,000 square feet of retail space that generate sales tax and have a licensed pharmacy), that provide plastic carryout bags at the point of sale to customers. The law requires regulated stores to establish a plastic carryout bag recycling program. Other retail establishments that do not fall under the law may also choose to voluntarily participate in this statewide program.

In 2007, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (now the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle) adopted regulations that require regulated store operators to maintain records and submit annual reports to CalRecycle about the collection, transportation, and recycling of regulated plastic carryout bags. The regulations allow operators to report the weight of plastic carryout bags recycled or the weight of the bags commingled with other film plastic that is being recycled. Further, the regulations require CalRecycle to develop and publish a recycling rate for the commingled plastic film.

Analysis

For 2009, store operators, representing 5,543 stores in California, reported that they purchased about 53,000 tons of regulated plastic carryout bags. Thirteen stores reported they did not purchase plastic carryout bags.

  • About 36 percent of stores reported that their recycling programs collected only plastic carryout bags ("bags-only").
  • About 58 percent of stores reported collecting plastic carryout bags commingled with other plastic material ("commingled").
  • About 4 percent reported collecting plastic carryout bags using both methods.
  • The remaining 2 percent either did not report recycling or did not report the weight of bags purchased.
Table 1: Summary of Reported Collection Methods Used to Collect and Recycle Plastic Carryout Bags and the Weight of Bags Purchased
Collection Methods Number of StoresWeight of Plastic Bags
Purchased (tons)
Bags-Only2,00720,327
Commingled3,20728,881
Both Methods2392,949
Did Not Report Recycling90608
Total5,543*52,765*

*Note: Thirteen (13) stores did not report the weight of bags purchased. Results may vary due to rounding.

To determine how much of the collected material sent to recycling was regulated plastic carryout bags, CalRecycle staff applied the adjustment factors established by the CSUS Characterization Study to the reported amounts collected. The "bags-only" and "commingled" collection methods each have their own adjustment factors as established by the study. The CSUS Characterization Study found that:

  • Bags-only method: Of the 7,700 tons reported as collected using this method, only 11 percent of this material were regulated bags and about 89 percent were either non-regulated bags or other plastic material and contaminants.
  • Commingled method: Of the 11,410 tons reported as collected using this method, about 6 percent of this material were regulated bags and about 94 percent were either non-regulated bags or other plastic material and contaminants.
Table 2: Net Weight of Plastic Carryout Bags Collected for Recycling Using the Bags-Only and Commingled Methods
 Bags-Only MethodCommingled Method 
Material
Collected
CSUS
Adjustment
Factor
(percent)
Net
Weight
Collected
(tons)
CSUS
Adjustment
Factor
(percent)
Net
Weight
Collected
(tons)
Total
Net Weight
Collected
(tons)
Regulated Plastic Carryout Bags118475.96731,520
Non-Regulated Bags4.131677991,115
Other Plastic Material84.96,53787.19,93816,474
Total1007,70010011,41019,110*

*Note: Results may vary due to rounding.

Recycling Rate

The 2009 statewide recycling rate for regulated plastic carryout bags was calculated by dividing the total amount of regulated bags collected for recycling (1,520 tons) by the total amount of regulated bags purchased (52,765 tons). The resulting recycling rate is about 3 percent.

Data Limitations

Not all store operators submitted annual reports despite receiving multiple notices that reports were due. Therefore, there are likely more regulated stores in California than reported to CalRecycle. However, all of the large chain stores and many smaller chain stores reported.

The regulations also allow a designated reporting party to submit a report on behalf of a store operator. While this makes it easier for store operators to submit their reports, sometimes both the store and a designated reporting party submitted a report to CalRecycle. Also, some reports by designated reporting parties included several operators but did not specify which stores were included for which operator.

Many of the largest store chains declined to participate in the CSUS Characterization Study, which limits the representativeness of the data, as well as the overall accuracy of the statewide recycling rate.

Collectors and Recyclers

The 2009 annual reports identified 102 entities that either collected and/or recycled regulated plastic carryout bags. The entities included:

  • Businesses (for example, plastic bag brokers, distributors, and plastic reprocessors).
  • Local waste haulers and municipalities.
  • Nonprofits.
  • Elementary schools.
  • Other regulated stores.

Some of the products made from the recycled plastic carryout bags included new plastic bags, film plastic, and plastic lumber.

Detailed Findings

The following summary contains more detailed information than presented above in Tables 1 and 2.

In this summary, store operators are grouped together by size in order to differentiate their reporting results. The size of an operator is determined by the number of stores represented in their report. The number of stores illustrates differences between operators due to their quantities of plastic carryout bags purchased and recycled. Store operator categories are:

  • Small – One (1) reported store location.
  • Medium – Between two and ten (2-10) stores.
  • Large – Between 11-100 stores.
  • Extra Large – More than 100 stores.
  • Non-Responsive – Store operators with an unknown number of store locations due to lack of a store list within the annual report.

Note: A number of annual reports did not include complete information for all sections. Therefore the number of store operators included in the analysis below varies as each analysis only includes the number of stores that submitted complete information.

Table 3 provides a summary of the total number of store locations, within each size category, that reported purchasing regulated plastic carryout bags for distribution.

Table 3: Number of Stores Reporting Purchasing by Store Operator Category
Store Operator CategoryNumber of Stores
in Category
Percentage
Small (1)2745%
Medium (2-10)2625%
Large (11-100)4438%
Extra Large (101+)4,56482%
Non-Responsive (No Stores Listed)UnknownN/A
Total5,543 

Figure 1 depicts the percentage distribution of stores from Table 3 by store operator category. This figure does not include the non-responsive store operators who have not submitted a list of store locations. The store operators that comprise the extra-large category account for 82 percent of the total reported stores.

Pie chart depicting the percent of stores in each of four store operator categories as described above in Table 3.

Table 4 is a summary of the methods used by the 322 store operators who reported to CalRecycle to collect and recycle or send for recycling their regulated plastic carryout bags. Store operators that used both bags-only and commingled methods to report their recycling are identified as “both methods.”

Table 4: Summary of Reported Collection Methods Used to Collect and Recycle Plastic Carryout Bags
Reported Collection MethodNumber of Store Operators
Bags-Only191
Commingled104
Both Methods27

Table 5 presents a breakdown of all plastic materials collected for recycling using the bags-only collection method. The table provides a breakdown within the following three categories based on the CSUS findings:

  • Regulated bags: Plastic carryout bags that bear the “PLEASE RETURN TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING” notice.
  • Non-Regulated bags: Plastic carryout bags that do not bear the “PLEASE RETURN TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING” notice.
  • Other Plastic Material: Durable plastic items such as, but not limited to, bottles, hangers, tubs and pails.

The results show that in 2009, of the 7,700 tons reported as collected for recycling using the bags-only method, only 847 tons of regulated plastic carryout bags were collected.

Table 5: Net Weight of Material Collected for Recycling Using the of Bags-Only Method
Material CollectedCSUS
Adjustment
Factor
(percent)
Net
Weight
Collected
(tons)
Regulated Plastic Carryout Bags11847
Non-Regulated Bags4.1316
Other Plastic Material84.96,537
Total1007,700*

*Note: Weight results may not total due to rounding.

Table 6 presents a breakdown of all plastic materials collected for recycling using the commingled collection method. The table provides a breakdown within the following five categories based on the CSUS findings. Note: Data reported above in Table 2 as Non-Regulated Bags is further broken down here as "Non-Regulated Bags" and "Ineligible Bags." Similarly, data reported in Table 2 as Other Plastic Material is further broken down here as "Film and Shrink Wrap" and "Other Plastic Material."

  • Regulated Bags: Plastic carryout bags that bear the “PLEASE RETURN TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING” notice.
  • Non-Regulated Bags: Plastic carryout bags that do not bear the “PLEASE RETURN TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING” notice.
  •  Ineligible Bags: Unregulated or mislabeled plastic bags (e.g. plastic trash bags, shopping/merchandise bags, sandwich bags, zipper bags, produce bags, etc.).
  • Film and Shrink Wrap: Plastic agricultural film, drop cloths, stretch and shrink wrap used to transport merchandise, packaging, other plastic wrap.
  • Other Plastic Material: Durable plastic items such as, but not limited to, bottles, hangers, tubs, and pails.

The results show that in 2009, of the 11,410 tons reported as collected for recycling using the commingled method, only 673 tons of regulated plastic carryout bags were collected.

Table 6: Net Weight of Material Collected for Recycling Using the Commingled Method
Material CollectedCSUS
Adjustment
Factor
(percent)
Net
Weight
Collected
(tons)
Regulated Plastic Carryout Bags5.9673
Non-Regulated Bags1.1126
Ineligible Bags5.9673
Film and Shrink Wrap63.27,211
Other Plastic Material23.92,727
Total10011,410*

Table 7 provides a summary of the collection methods used, by store operator category, to collect and recycle plastic carryout bags.

Table 7: Summary of the Reported Collection Methods Used, by Store Operator Category, to Collect and Recycle Plastic Carryout Bags.
Store Operator CategoryStores Using Bags-Only MethodStores Using Commingled MethodStores Using Both MethodsTotal Number of Stores
Small (1)1316821220
Medium (2-10)1546617237
Large (11-100)13626234432
Extra Large (101+)1,5862,8111674,564
Non-Responsive (No Stores Listed)UnknownUnknownUnknownUnknown
Total2,0073,2072395,453

*Note: The total numbers of stores does not include 90 stores that did not report any recycling.