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Trex retools film recycling program in Southern California

By: Gayle S. Putrich

May 3, 2013

WASHINGTON — Wood-alternative decking company Trex Co. Inc. is revamping its thin-film collection and recycling program in Southern California, with hopes of eventually expanding the program to all 50 states.

The in-store bag and film recycling program was originally started in 2008, with Trex partnering with dry cleaners, independent grocery stores, hospitals, a horse stable and Petco Park — home of the San Diego Padres.

But enthusiasm waned, in large part because of technical issues.

“Reliability was an issue with the old balers,” said Dave Heglas, director of material resources for Winchester, Va.-based Trex. Large bales were unmanageable and hauling them away was sometimes a problem, he said.

Now Trex is retrofitting existing recycling program participants in Southern California with new compressed-air mini-balers that produce manageable 50-pound bales. The bales are collected and held in one location until a truck is full and ready to haul the plastic to a Trex facility in Nevada.

“We’ve got our key accounts that have been with us since day one. We’d like to use them as case studies and then encourage other locations to join in on the new mini-balers,” he said.

Trex hopes to eventually expand the program to all 50 states as part of the different types of recycling programs the company has going all over the country.

Overall, more than 1 billion pounds of post-consumer plastic bags and films were collected for recycling in 2011 in the United States, according to a report earlier this year by the American Chemistry Council. About 55 percent of the post-consumer film being recycled was attributed to plastic and composite decking.

The signature Trex composite decking is manufactured of more than 95 percent recycled content, according to the company, combining sawdust with PE from common household items such as sandwich and bread bags, newspaper sleeves, dry cleaning bags and grocery bags.

According to recycling advocates Californians Against Waste, Trex should collect and recycle the grocery bags while they still can. Southern California, where the decking company is piloting the new baler program, is an incubator for the growing trend of bans, fees and taxes on plastic bags that environmentalists say will eventually lead to the demise of the plastic bag.

“Trex was a big supporter of the California effort 10 years ago to give plastic bag recycling a try. It’s disappointing that that effort was such a failure,” said Mark Murray, executive director of CAW. “However, the failure of plastic bag recycling was as much one of weak and expensive collection as it was of weak markets. While we wish Trex the best of luck in their current efforts, there is zero chance that new balers are going to save the day for single use grocery bags in California. Whether through local ordinance, state law or consumer preference, single use plastic grocery bags will not exist in California in the next three to four years.”

Heglas said that while the Trex accepts the much-maligned plastic grocery and retail bags, “that’s not what we built our business on.”

 “There’s plenty of other plastic. Almost anything you buy comes in a PE bag,” he said. “We’re just trying to make it easier for people to recycle.”