Recent research found that the average Californian has to drive for 6.2 minutes to reach their nearest PE film recycling location, and that store drop-off programs collect over 8,700 tons of the material each year.
Nonprofit organization GreenBlue commissioned consulting and research firm Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) to study California’s LDPE recycling systems after the state adopted SB 343, the so-called “truth in labeling” law, in September 2021.
“LDPE film and flexible packaging is managed outside the curbside system in California and may require independent substantiation” to determine whether it will be counted as recyclable, the report noted. “From interviews with some retailers, RRS did learn that CalRecycle appears to also be asking for data from retailers on PE film and bag reclamation.”
Recently, California Attorney General Rob Bonta asked six manufacturers of plastic bags to prove their bags are recyclable, and several lawsuits have cropped up in the state over bag and film recyclability.
The aims of the study were to document consumer access to recycling for LDPE film and flexible packaging within California, including store and municipal drop-off and MRF collection, and determine film quantity and quality.
According to the final report, only one of the MRFs interviewed formally accepted PE film. The rest received it but sent it to landfill.
There are 1,437 retail locations in the state that offer film/bag drop off, the study found, and the average grocery store collects 7.8 tons of film per year. The report estimated that each year a total of 8,724 tons of PE film and bags are collected through store drop-off statewide.
Of that total, RRS estimated that between 85% and 90% of the tons of film collected are reclaimed.
In terms of access, the study found that 64.1% of California consumers have access to store drop-off within a 5-minute drive, and 92.9% of California consumers have access within a 15-minute drive. The mean driving time was found to be 6.2 minutes.
When it comes to end markets, there are four PE bag and film reclaimers within California, two just outside California and another in British Columbia, the study found, representing more than 500 million pounds of reclamation capacity. Just over half of that goes to Trex for composite decking, the report noted.
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