North Vernon, Ind. — There are plenty of myths and misunderstandings floating around when it comes to plastic bag and film recycling. But most of those myths are quietly busted all day long in a small southeastern Indiana town.
There is the myth that plastic bags can't be recycled. Or that they can't be recycled more than once. There is the myth that there is no value to recycled plastic or plastic bags as a recyclable material and even the myth that recycled-content plastics are inferior to virgin.
Novolex's recycling and bag-making facility, under its Hilex Poly brand in North Vernon, is a place perhaps the rest of the country — particularly California — could look to for a dose of myth-busting before banning plastic bags altogether.
MYTH: Plastic bags can't be recycled
Environmental groups, most notably the group leading the charge to ban plastic bags in California, Californians Against Waste, typically throw out the statistic of 5 percent. Only about 5 percent of plastic bags get recycled, goes the claim, as though a low recycling rate somehow proves a physical impossibility of recycling.
It's not that used plastic bags, wraps and film can't be recycled, it's that so many curbside programs can't take them because the municipal systems don't have the right equipment, said Novolex Senior Director of Sustainability Phil Rozenski, who also puts estimates the plastic bag recycling rate at closer to 15 percent.
The lack of curbside collection is actually good for Novolex and the North Vernon plant, where 20 million to 24 million pounds of film is collected and recycled every year, but not great for recycling rates overall.
According to the most recent National Postconsumer Plastic Bag & Film Recycling Report, complied by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. for the American Chemistry Council, film recycling is on the rise, albeit slowly. In 2014, that market segment saw a 3 percent increase in recycling, totaling 1.17 billion pounds. Overall, plastic film recycling is up by nearly 80 percent over the past decade.
The biggest barrier to recycling, Rozenski says, is actually consumer reuse.
“The greatest competition I have for recycling materials is that consumers reuse about 50 to 60 percent of the bags out there in their homes,” he said.