If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered about the plastic bag recycling receptacle that has been living by our Co-op’s exit doors for the last few months. The recycling industry has suffered in recent times, and it makes some of us have to ask: what is actually happening to these bags once they leave our store? After all, there is no away – everything winds up somewhere, whether it’s in a landfill gas to energy project, the ocean, or in consumer goods.
Happily, one of our shareholders approached me recently to find an answer to this question, so I had a great excuse to do a little bit of research. In honor of Green Up Day, I’ve published my response below. I hope you enjoy it.
-Ruth, Shareholder Services
This is Ruth at the Shareholder Services desk at the Brattleboro Co-op. Many weeks ago you asked where the plastic bags end up that we recycle here. I just got off the phone with Kevin Pelletier from Reverse Recycling in Connecticut, the recycling center that one of our wholesalers, Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE), sends our recycled plastic grocery bags to. I’ve been trying to connect with him for a long time, and finally it happened today.
Basically, the plastic bags are picked up from the Co-op by AGNE (a cooperative grocery wholesaler we buy from), who bale it themselves. Reverse Recycling then picks the bales up, and over time gather many tons from their different clients (see attached photo of baled plastic bags). Once they have a quantity large enough to be marketable, they sell all that plastic according weight and grade (it’s graded according to how pure/contaminated it is, A, B, etc).
Right now, because China has virtually stopped taking our plastic (they once took 30% of our plastics, and now take only 2%, according to Kevin), they sell to domestic mills, here in the States, that turn the plastic bags into pellets which can then be turned into other goods. Some of these mills are owned by businesses that also make those other goods – Kevin used the example of Trex decking – however most of them, it seems, then sell those pellets to manufacturers in yet another tier of the plastics market. And because the market for plastic is so over-saturated, the mills basically have all the power, and can buy lots and lots of this stuff for not much money. It seems like a lot of his job involves being on the losing end of price negotiations.
Kevin assured me that none of the plastic he deals with winds up in a landfill or the ocean. He was very nice and helpful, and gave me a lot of information. But because of the nature of the business he’s in, there’s not one clear and simple answer to the question of what happens to these bags, and, though he didn’t say it, I wonder if perhaps he doesn’t always know. But that’s me reading between the lines. After talking with him, I was at least assured that there is, in fact, a market for this stuff, however over-saturated and hobbled it is.