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Scrap recyclers adopt policy opposing bag bans, fees

By: Catherine Kavanaugh
WASTE & RECYCLING NEWS

August 5, 2013

A trade group that represents scrap recyclers has come out against efforts to ban or charge fees for recyclable paper and plastic shopping bags.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries announced Monday that its board has adopted a policy to promote a market-based system for the trade of recyclable materials without restrictions or interference.

The policy says ISRI "opposes bans and fees on paper and plastic bags that are being manufactured into useful commodity grade materials and sold into viable, commercial markets without subsidies or noncompetitive, fixed pricing."

ISRI President Robin Wiener described the group's members as "quite concerned" about ban and fee decisions that governmental policymakers are making without considering the impact on recycling.

Many cities and counties have enacted plastic bag bans, taxes and fees. Proponents contend the measures reduce the number of plastic bags in landfills, trees, storm drains and recycling centers, where they clog sorting machines.

"No matter how good the intentions, these policy discussions should not be made in a vacuum," Wiener said in a statement. "Rather than bans and fees that take away jobs and increase costs to consumers, policy makers should take advantage of the great economic and environmental opportunities associated with responsibly recycling these bags."

In the United States, about 77 percent of paper mills rely on recovered fiber to make some or all of their products, according to ISRI, which also says recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees, 79 gallons of oil, 7,000 gallons of water, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

For plastic recycling, ISRI says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites significant energy savings of an estimated 50-75 million BTUs per ton of material recycled.

Joel Litman, president of Texas Recycling/Surplus, Inc., spokesman for ISRI's paper stock industries chapter, said his company recycles bags into valuable commodity grade materials that are sold to manufacturing plants all over the world to make finished products.

"Policymakers and consumers are often surprised to learn the important economic role that paper and plastic bags play in the continuous life-cycle of paper and plastic products," Litman said in a statement.

ISRI's new policy also calls for more retailers to provide convenient collection for plastic bags — an area where it sees some progress. In 2011, the trade groups says an estimated 151 million pounds of bags and sacks were collected for recycling, which represents a 19 percent increase over 2010.

Washington-based ISRI says proper recycling brings economic opportunities associated with the collection, processing, and reuse of paper and plastic bags.

The plastic bag industry employs more than 30,000 people directly, according to Phil Rozenski, director of sustainability and marketing for Hilex Poly Co. LLC, and a member of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA).

APBA and other organizations have been successful in opposing bag bans and taxes in Oregon, California, Virginia, Maryland and Washington state.