Mega-retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is fired up over the results of a pilot plastic bag recycling process it calls the ``Plastic Sandwich Bale.''
``This program could quite possibly become one of Wal-Mart's biggest recycling efforts to date,'' said Patsy Stephens, administrative manager for Wal-Mart's waste management department.
The company launched the pilot program in September in 326 stores in the western United States.
The process entails sandwiching plastic shopping bags, film and shrink wrap between layers of cardboard. The material is compacted into bales for shipping to end users.
Wal-Mart's current recycling program at its 3,661 U.S. stores involves recovering plastic shopping bags using receptacles at the front of the stores. Waste haulers and recyclers pick up the loose bags from the receptacles.
The company had not been able to recycle plastic film generated in its stores. The new process allows the stores to recycle that material along with plastic shopping bags.
``We're just trying to streamline the process, but we're also trying to do better by the Earth by keeping all that out of the landfill,'' said Tara Stewart, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. ``When the pilot's finished, it's doing so well, we can't imagine [that it wouldn't be] rolled out companywide.'' Wal-Mart is based in Bentonville, Ark.
The stores participating in the pilot program are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
In November the stores collected 448 tons of plastic, and they expected to perhaps double that amount for December. Rocky Mountain Recycling, a Salt Lake City packer and broker, markets the plastic to end users such as plastic lumber manufacturers Trex Co. Inc. and Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc.
``It is a new source of plastic that hasn't been tapped before,'' said Jeff Ashby, sales and marketing manager for Rocky Mountain. ``The potential of it is huge.''
Wal-Mart and Rocky Mountain Recycling developed the system, which has a patent pending. Ashby is working with other companies, including Wal-Mart's plastic bag manufacturer, Hilex Poly Co. LLC, to make their products using the recovered plastic bags and film. The current market for the material is strong, with baled plastic bags fetching around 22 or 23 cents per pound, and the company has approached other large retailers to recover more plastic, Ashby said.
Rocky Mountain Recycling sells the material to domestic end users only, at Wal-Mart's request, even though overseas buyers are willing to pay a premium for the material, he said.
``Baling the plastic along with the cardboard allows us to effectively contain and transport the plastic, and has proven to be a very efficient use of the existing balers in the stores,'' Ashby said.