Rethinking plastic by changing the unworkable bag ban in New York

A bill recently proposed in Albany that would establish minimum recycled content requirements for plastic trash bags represents a reasonable and environmentally friendly approach to circularity, an economic concept that encourages the creation of products that last.

US plastic retail bag manufacturers have long supported increasing recycled content in their products as part of their commitment to sustainability. It makes sense. What makes less sense is the lack of action around the ban on broken, unworkable and almost unenforceable plastic retail bags.

Instead of clinging to a ban marred by lawsuits, delay and confusion, lawmakers should instead promote circularity by requiring all plastic bags to contain specific levels of recycled content. After all, most plastic trash bags and plastic retail bags are made from the same type of plastic: polyethylene.

Businesses in New York are left in limbo, unsure of what kind of bags they can legally supply. Last summer, state courts overturned an effort by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to create a loophole for reusable bags with sewn-in handles like those commonly available for a dollar or two at the box. DEC’s favorite bags have a dirty secret: the vast majority are still made from plastics like polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate. But unlike traditional plastic film bags, they are not recyclable.

Indeed, the ban replaces recyclable plastic retail bags with non-recyclable plastic bags, most of which are made overseas in some of the most polluting countries in the world.

What is more concerning is that during the unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic, supporters of the ban resorted to setting up a queue, encouraging New Yorkers to sidestep. take it to store owners trying to feed their communities at costs they can afford.

There are reasons to hope that New York will turn away from punitive and questionable environmental bans. The proposal to establish recycled content standards for plastic trash bags provides a roadmap for the state and reflects existing and effective private sector efforts.

By further commodifying the flow of recycled plastic bags and film and generating increased demand, these policies can expand the opportunities for plastic to find new life and also reduce the consumption of virgin materials. The states that set these policies are giving a big push to recycling, something that US retail bag makers embraced long ago.

Determined to ensure that their products have an alternative after use to landfill, these manufacturers have launched the in-store take-back program with retail partners, creating a convenient and accessible way for consumers to recycle products rarely accepted in the market. as part of municipal recycling programs.

Eligible materials, in addition to plastic bags, include stretch pouches and pillows from online orders, newspaper and dry cleaning bags, and packaging for household paper products. Basically, if it is stretchy, dry, and clean, it can be returned with the plastic bags that help consumers do their shopping at home.

As the industry promoted the take-back program, it also invested in US operations to acquire, clean and remanufacture these salvaged materials into products like composite lumber, railroad ties, field equipment. game and, yes, new bags.

Instead of leaving small businesses in limbo or pushing them to import more plastic bags from overseas, New York can be a leader in promoting circularity by helping to establish a larger end market for products. in recycled plastic film.

The requirement to impose recycled content requirements for plastic bags will stimulate demand and possibly even stimulate domestic investment in infrastructure to collect, process and remanufacture these materials – giving the unfairly maligned bag a new lease of life. life and businesses and families in the state a much needed financial respite.

Zachary Taylor is the director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which represents plastic bag manufacturers and recyclers in the United States.

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