In what Command Packaging says is the first program of its kind for plastic bag makers in the U.S., the custom bag manufacturer has created an onsite center to collect and recycle film and bag scrap from other area businesses.
``The environmental pressures on plastics, particularly litter and the low recycling rate of plastic bags, has created the need for us as an industry to take some kind of responsibility,'' said Chief Executive Officer Pete Grande in a Dec. 5 phone interview.
``We have set a corporate goal to make all of our products with some recycled content and, hopefully, at some point, make all bags from 100 percent recycled content. The goal is to create a truly integrated, closed-loop, sustainable solution.''
Grande said the Vernon, Calif., company is collecting plastic scrap from about 100 businesses and turning it into pellets, mostly for internal use. A small amount is sold in North America for manufacturing into other U.S. products.
``As a nation, we have to find uses for our recycled material here. We can't just ship it to China anymore,'' he said.
Much of what Command collects is linear low density polyethylene, and much of that is shrink and stretch wrap. But it also collects bubble wrap and dry cleaning clothes liners. Grande said Command would like to collect more high density PE, such as retail or grocery bags, as well as cereal box liners and industrial packaging such as bags that are used to protect imported products during shipping.
``We have a warehouse full of recycled pellets, sorted by grade, color and pellet type,'' Grande said. ``We have created routes and pickup schedules. There is no shortage of companies to get material from. Our recycling capacity is sold out.''
The Command CEO did not disclose specific numbers. But he said the company, which for many years has recycled its own waste, has doubled its capacity for recycling plastic scrap since it began collecting material from other companies in the first quarter of this year. The company's Web site said Command has diverted 4 million pounds of plastics from landfills in 2008.
The Command Packaging Recycling Center, which has its own separate staff, has been licensed as an approved recycler by the California Department of Conservation.
Currently, 25 percent of Command's products are made with post-consumer content, including its trademarked Encore line of carryout bags that are made from 80-100 percent recycled content. Grande said the company's goal by the end of 2010 is to have 50 percent of its bags made with some post-consumer content.
``We are pioneering this change in the markets we serve,'' Grande said. ``Until we [the industry] start making products with recycled plastics, we will be facing an uphill battle with legislators. We hope that having a better recycling system through store collection and curbside will remove some of the negativity associated with plastics.''
Grande said Command is not trying to be a plastics recycler, but wants to create a closed-loop system and reduce the amount of plastic headed to landfills. But he also said Command will be expanding its recycling center when the economy improves.
``Our plan is to create a state-of-the-art recycling center where we can wash and clean all sorts of plastics,'' Grande said. ``We were all set to buy equipment that would give us a capacity that is 1½ times greater than our new current capacity. But when the credit crunch hit, the recession started and resin prices dropped, we put those plans on hold.''
Grande believes the company's recycling and closed-loop initiative will help the industry in its current battles. But he also knows legislative efforts to ``outright ban or create de facto bag bans'' through a 25 cent fee are not going to go away and will again be part of California's 2009 legislative session.
Still, the market for plastic bags with recycled content has some obstacles, he said.
``It is not cheaper, because if you are [currently] making a thin-gauged bag, you have to make them thicker [with post-consumer content],'' Grande said. What's more, the current economy has changed the economics at least in the short-term.
``The reality is that prior to the financial and energy market meltdown in the last 60 days, all you had to say [to a potential customer] was that we can make your bags more environmentally friendly, and they were interested,'' Grande said. ``But now, they are focused on price and costs and want to see some savings.''