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A community member recently forwarded us this article - with her statement that she was shocked not to see plastic bags mentioned in the article! Its a great article and certainly, we will applaud any small steps towards a more sustainable business model - but it does seem interesting that plastic bag recycling wasn't mentioned. Is it that plastic bag recycling is already commonplace? Or is it that its not a priority? Any comments?
Supermarket industry exploring ways to recycle more
June 23 -- The plastics recycling industry will start a six-month nationwide pilot program this summer to recycle the rigid plastic containers used in the backrooms of the bakery, deli and seafood counters at grocery stores. "This is very clean, food-grade material that is currently mostly discarded and thrown away," said Elizabeth Bedard, director of the rigid plastics recycling program for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, in a phone interview. "A lot of it stacks easily and there are a limited number of different sizes."
"We want to expand recycling beyond No. 1 [PET] and No. 2 [high density polyethylene] bottles," Bedard said. "This is low-hanging fruit that we need to capture to move rigid plastics recycling forward" and develop a third recycling stream.
Included in the pilot program will be items such as rectangular fish containers, floral bins and containers, and the large 2½ to 3½ gallon frosting, potato salad, butter cream, and sanitizer containers used behind-the-scenes in the deli and bakery departments.
The pilot will also include the countless number of pharmaceutical bottles used daily, she said.
Two other rigid plastic segments used by workers in supermarkets ù meat containers and floor care containers ù will not be included in the pilot program.
"Grocery chains have done a great job recycling corrugated containers and plastic film [pallet wrap]," she said. "They want to know what is the next material they can recycle."
Bedard said the program would kick off with two still-to-be-determined nationwide grocery chains in the United States, and stems from work and research APR has done in conjunction with grocers the past 18 months.
That research estimated that medium-to-large supermarkets in the United States generate 350 million pounds of rigid plastics behind their counters and that 60 percent of that, or 212 million pounds, stacks easily. Those 212 million pounds will be the largest portion of the pilot project.
Separately, APR has conducted a national bale audit survey, scheduled to be released next month, to evaluate the contents in non-bottle bales of rigid plastics to determine what types of "untapped supply" in those bales can be recycled, Bedard said.
In the supermarket pilot program, the materials collected at stores will be backhauled to the store´s distribution centers, Bedard said.
"We want to track the concerns, understand the obstacles and some of the challenges involved, and work on solutions," she said. That is why pharmaceutical containers will be part of the pilot program. "We want to see how cumbersome it is to collect them."
The pilot program will include a time-motion study on baling vs. hand-sorting materials and stacking them in a watermelon box on a pallet, and whether it makes sense to group all containers together or sort them by resin type. Roughly half are made polystyrene, and the rest are polyethylene.
"We want to look at the time involved and whether there is an economic benefit to grocers to sort the rigid plastics, and weigh the effort involved to do that vs. the economic value," Bedard said. "An adequate supply, enough good raw materials, proven technology, good demand and profitable end products are needed to make rigid plastic recycling successful."
Mike Verespej is a reporter for Plastics News, a sister publication to Waste & Recycling News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7325.