Plastic Bag Makers Embrace Recycling

Facing the threat of bans in some cities and consumer backlash in others, the plastic bag industry announced a broad effort to clean up its image Tuesday.
Under the Full Scale Recycling Initiative, the industry has committed to using 40 percent recycled content in plastic bags by 2015 — a change it says will reduce waste by 300 million pounds a year, save enough natural gas to heat 200,000 homes a year and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Plastic bag manufacturers also will spend some $50 million to retool factories to make the cleaner bags, the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry lobbying group said.
“Today we mark a milestone as we welcome a new plastic bag for the 21st century,” said Cal Dooley, President & CEO of the American Chemistry Council, in a statement.
“Plastic bag makers have listened to policy makers and customers and are launching an initiative that will make a lasting positive impact on American communities,” he said.
In recent years, countries from Ireland to Australia have passed laws to cut use of plastic bags. But the movement only recently gained momentum in the U.S.
While plastic bags were not used widely in supermarkets and other retail outlets until the early 1980s, they’re now ubiquitous, and Americans use billions a year.
Critics argue that petroleum-based plastic bags waste fossil fuels, litter streets, clog sewers and pack landfills with small sacks that take 1,000 years to decompose.
They have pushed retailers to use bags made from more earth-friendly materials, like 100-percent recycled paper or biodegradable plastic, and to encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags.
San Francisco has so far as to outlaw plastic bags at large supermarkets. Other cities have also considered bans or limits on plastic bags.
Before the movement spread further, some of the country’s biggest plastic bag makers, including Houston’s Superbag Operating LTD, began in 2007 looking at ways to coexist with environmentalists.
The initiative announced Tuesday — not surprisingly, just in time for Earth Day Wednesday — grew out of that effort.
The plastic bag industry accounts for about 4,100 jobs in Texas, the highest number in any state, according to the trade group Society of the Plastics Industry.
Among the retailers and trade groups on board with the plan: Walgreens Co., Home Depot and the Texas Retailers Association.