Plastics Bags – What’s the big deal?? (part two)

If you haven’t yet, please check out Plastic bags: What’s the big deal? (pt 1)

Here are those takeaways again:

#1: When it comes to plastics, the number on the item does not tell you if it’s recyclable. Or made from recycled content.

#2: When it comes to plastic bags, they don’t belong in your home, office, or school recycling bin!

#3: Take your plastic bags back to the grocery store to recycle them!

As was mentioned in Part One, we’re passionate about the waste hierarchy, so let’s break this down a little further. When we go about our daily lives, we create waste. There is a growing movement in the world where we realize the impact of everyday waste: both that wasting resources is financially and ecologically damaging, and that many materials have value past consumer use.

There is an easy way to apply the waste hierarchy to the idea of single-use plastic bags and plastic packaging film: Reduce, Reuse, and then Recycle.

Reduce: Ask yourself a couple of questions, like, “Do I need a bag at all?” “Can I use fewer bags?” Sometimes we are so distracted or busy that we fail to realize that those disposable bags are optional! Just because we are shopping doesn’t mean we will come home with dozens of bags!

Reuse: Yes, you can reuse those plastic bags once they enter your home…but most of the reuse opportunities result in the bags being sent to the landfill. Examples of this reuse include bathroom trash bin liners, and dog walking poop duty. I have discovered that even if I get a couple of bags a week, my “reuse” is far too seldom to necessitate that full cupboard of bags that we all seem to have. Instead, ask yourself if you have a couple of reusable bags you can reply on, or do you need some crafty inspiration?

Recycle: When you have those bags that are excess: you’re getting fewer, reusing what you can, bringing your own bags, and still have those bags…recycle them! Plastic bags, film, and wrap are recyclable at your local grocery store (click here for more info on that program) and they get made into a durable product called composite lumber. The images below are from a sample of TREX, but other composite lumber manufacturers include FiberonNovolex, and others. Composite lumber is generally made from a mixture of sawdust, shredded plastic bags and film, and a resin to bind everything together.

images of composite lumber, including its components: plastic flake, sawdust, and a binder

Some of the selling points of composite lumber are that is has no splinters and it won’t warp or mold. Additionally, the pieces I have are different colors…it can be molded and colored in a wide variety of styles.

From one standpoint, this is a good end-use for a previously-disposable product. The current confusion around recycling plastic bags and film has resulted in recycling centers combating it as a contaminant. But, what of the larger issues? If we are still processing oil to create plastic bags and then spending more energy & resources converting those plastic bags  into a product that is not recyclable at the end of its life, what then?