What Can Happen To Your Plastic Bags
By John Dorschner
Trex has made a big business of what many experts think of as the grand evil of local recycling — plastic bags.
Not just bags, but a bunch of other things that are unrecyclable in almost all city/county recycling programs, including “air pillows.” (More on all that Trex takes — and doesn’t take — later in the story.)
Traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Trex has been at this for almost 30 years. It takes what’s called “film” in the recycling industry and converts it into composite decking.
“We started in the process in the mid-1990s and we’ve grown it into a billion dollar business,” said Zach Lauer, Trex’s supply chain vice president. “We’re always looking for the next opportunity to take something out of the landfill …and create something valuable.”
Trex products include wood-alternative decking and related items, such as picnic benches, that look like wood but don’t deteriorate like wood. “Our deck boards are 95 percent recyclable material,” Lauer said. “Only the very very thin outer shell is top-shelf virgin material,” meaning new plastic that’s stain resistant.
Many suspect there are too many false claims made in the recycling business, but a publicly traded company like Trex has legal requirements that it tell the public — and its shareholders — the truth. It markets itself as providing “outdoor living products … with fewer ongoing maintenance requirements than wood, as well as a truly environmentally responsible choice.”
It contracts with many supermarket chains throughout America, including Winn-Dixie, plus large retail outlets and distribution centers that use a lot of plastic film in their back-of-store and warehouse operations. A Publix PR rep didn’t identify the recyclers that chain uses, but its requirements for plastic match Trex’s exactly and Publix says its recycled bags can made into outdoor decking.
Here’s the basic economics:
Trex compensates stores for the time employees spend collecting the materials, but it also promotes their stores with school and community programs. Kids get told to do good for the world by having their families take plastic bags to participating stores. That brings customers to the stores — and give the stores publicity for being environmentally conscious. And, of course, Trex itself gets a big boost as a green company that deserves public support.
After the film is baled locally, it’s transported to Trex’s two processing centers, in Winchester, Va., and Fernley, Nev. (A third is planned for Little Rock, Ark.)
There the material is shredded, put through a filtration process and converted into plastic pellets that can be heated in the creation of the composite boards. “Our competitors are eager to get into these streams, because they see the value,” Lauer said
Trex composite board “is not all plastic,” Lauer said. “There are fillers from other waste streams.” He added he didn’t want to reveal the Trex recipe for competitive reasons, but other sources say that the plastic is blended with sawdust.
Blueprint for Recycling “Film”
Now, for the details for what Trex wants. You can take this as a blueprint for Publix, Winn-Dixie or any other supermarket that has bins for plastic bags.
First, of course: “All plastic must be clean, dry and free of food residue.”
Trex wants not just grocery bags, but bread bags, dry cleaning bags, the plastic wrap that covers toilet-paper bundles, the wrap or stretch film that covers pallets, newspaper sleeves, “case overwrap” (the plastic that covers say, the top of a case of plastic water bottles, “air pillows” and “bubble wrap” that protect breakable shipped goods, and the wrap that covers electronic devices (like TVs).
Trex will take Ziploc bags, but they don’t want the zipper part, so you’d have to cut that off.
Also acceptable are any plastic films labeled #2 or #4, ice bags, wood pellet bags, salt bags and cereal box liners.
What NOT to include: Pre-washed salad mix bags, frozen food bags, candy bar wrappers, chip bags (stuff with a shiny metal-like lining), mesh or net produce bags, soil or mulch bags, pre-washed salad mix bags, pet food bags, hot dog or meat wrap packaging, six-pack rings, personal protective equipment (like gloves, masks, etc.), vinyl shower curtains or tablecloths, bedding or linen packaging (these are thicker plastic coverings) or “shiny, crinkly films like floral wrap.”
My favorite no-no’s listed on the Trex website are “pool covers” and “backyard ice rinks.” Just in case you were thinking of slipping them into your supermarket recycling bin.
The color of the plastic doesn’t matter. Bags with paper or tape labels stuck on them are OK, but the paper/tape should be cut off if possible.
If all this detail seems too confusing, Trex boils it down to two basic rules:
“If the package will stretch when you pull it, … it can be included. If it tears like paper, then please don’t put in the bin.
“Is the package shiny or does it make a crinkly/crunchy sound in your hand? If yes, do NOT recycle.”
For more info, here’s the Trex website with recycling advice: https://recycle.trex.com/view/educate#materials1
For more recycling news, see my blog miamiwebnews.blogspot.com