Recently iSustain moderated a discussion on Better Tracking, Better Data at the Plastics Recycling Conference. Speakers included representatives from Stina Inc., TC Transcontinental, and Resource Recycling Systems (RRS). A common source of data mentioned in the conversation was collected from plastic film recycling, a subject we’ve discussed previously and are in partnership with Sigma Stretch Film to improve.
Plastic film is a thin, flexible sheet of plastic that is commonly used for packaging and wrapping. Plastic film is made from many different types and combinations of plastic resins. Most film though is made from low-density polyethylene, or LDPE, landing it as a category four item in recycling programs. Unfortunately, due to consumer lack of knowledge and no city collection programs it often ends up in landfills or as litter.
Many individuals and businesses will erroneously deposit used plastic film into their recycling bins, with standard recycling facilities unequipped to recycle the film. However, there are plastic film recycling programs with the right resources and knowledge that can be viable options for reducing waste and conserving our natural resources.
What is Plastic Film Recycling
Plastic film includes recycling category four LDPE (low-density polyethylene) products, with examples including:
- Cling wrap and sandwich bags
- Grocery bags and frozen food bags
- Flexible container lids
- Dry cleaning bags
- Newspapers wrapping
- Shrink-wrap and stretch film
Plastic film recycling is the recycling of these polyethylene film products (Recycling Code 4)
According to The Recycling Partnership, only 1.9% of U.S. households have access to curbside plastic film recycling. This has led to it being a plastic material with one of the lowest overall recycling rates.
This is being noticed nationally, with Waste Management (WM) expecting “to invest over $800 million through 2025 to improve and enhance recycling infrastructure at curbside, including specialized technology that will allow WM to sort plastic films. WM will lead the collection and processing for the film recycling pilots and continue to identify film recycling opportunities across the U.S. By 2025, film recycling through WM is expected to reach 8% of U.S. households.”
Thankfully there’s no need to wait, solutions are already in place.
The Plastic Film Recycling Process
The first step in plastic film recycling is collection. Even though you may not have curbside film collection, individuals can utilize Bag and Film Recycling locations to drop off plastic film for collection. Most residents have film collection programs within a few miles of their homes at their local grocery store or “big box” retail center. Remove receipts or any other items from bags, and ensure the plastic stretches when you pull it. If it stretches, it generally is Recycle Code 4 Low-Density Polyethylene.
The good news for manufacturing and distribution centers is there are easy programs available and iSustain operates polyethylene film recycling all over North America. Businesses can get in touch with us at iSustain. We perform a good portion of our collection in warehouses, where a wealth of plastic film is used daily. These centralized locations provide businesses an excellent opportunity to recapture and recycle that packaging.
Once collection and sorting have taken place, there are two options for the recycling of plastic.
Traditional Mechanical Recycling: We recycle plastic film by sorting, washing, and “repelletizing the film.” These film pellets can be used in a variety of applications like making trash bags or perhaps going back into stretch film. This is exampled by our partnership with Sigma Stretch Film. We provide Sigma customers with an opportunity to recycle their used plastic film through mechanical recycling so it can be used to make plastic film products again.
Advanced Recycling: (also known as chemical recycling) recycles harder-to-recycle plastic film films by breaking the molecular bonds, using advanced chemical processes. Advanced recycling technologies (such as those provided by our partners ExxonMobil and Nexus Circular) can break down plastic film into its basic building blocks, to be made into a prime virgin plastic resin. This new resin is indistinguishable from virgin resins made from petroleum, and can be used to make any new product from food grade to medical products.
Through recycling plastic film we create a circular economy. Instead of using virgin oil pumped from our lands or oceans to make new plastic products, we are able to reuse the existing plastic film waste that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. By adopting a circular economy, we shift towards a more sustainable and efficient system that benefits the environment, the economy, and society as a whole.
The Benefits of Plastic Film Recycling
Through the development of new technologies in mechanical and advanced recycling processes, plastic film recycling has emerged as an incredibly promising solution for creating a more sustainable world. At iSustain, we understand the importance of addressing a range of waste streams in order to create meaningful change. Our commitment to offering plastic film recycling services is just one example of that dedication.
By customizing our services to fit the unique objectives of each organization, we empower our clients to recycle more effectively, minimize their environmental impact, and meet minimum-recycled-content mandates. Through these innovative approaches, we are hopeful that we can help to reduce waste and make a positive impact on the environment for generations to come.
Looking to help the environment and your bottom line by recycling your plastic film? Let us perform a waste audit, craft a proposal, and provide you with a solution that minimizes your expenses on waste removal while maximizing the diversion of waste from landfills. We felt Earth Day was the perfect occasion to be transparent about plastic film recycling, so let’s work together to repurpose hard-to-recycle plastics into a more sustainable future.