Plastic Bag Circular Economy

Market Overview

The US retail industry uses around 380 billion single use plastic bags and wraps annually, and despite their ability to be completely recycled over and over into many new products, including brand new plastic bags, today 95% still find their way to landfill.  Plastic bags actually provide significant economic and environmental benefit including lower environmental impacts than paper, cotton and even re-usable plastic shopping bags.  Yet, retailers and the plastic bag industry are under significant environmental pressure, even facing bans in some markets. 

Through collaborative, connected, and transparent circular economies, GearedforGreen is working with retailers, plastic bag manufacturers, and recycling – technology partners, to help significantly increase recycling rates and raise awareness to plastic bag sustainability.

Market Challenges

The two primary challenges that have impacted the recycling sector for retail plastic film and bags are limited markets and limited technologies.

Historically, retailers and recyclers have relied on two limited recycling markets for plastic films and bags.  The primary market for many years was to export overseas. However, export rates diminished significantly as a result of China’s 2018 National Sword policy banning imports of most recyclables.  The composite “wood” industry represents a secondary, but still significant recycling market, utilizing plastic films and bags as raw material inside thicker walled extruded and molded parts.

Until recently, the lack of innovative, domestic technologies also limited recycling rates.  Plastic films and bags are generally baled, containing a moderate level of contamination, including non-compatible plastic materials like polyester strapping, etc., and non-plastic waste materials like paper, food, etc. Export markets relied on a mix of low-cost labor and limited technology for sorting and recycling, while composite “wood” companies are able to mask the contamination inside thicker walled, lower value parts.

As a result of limited markets, technologies and low domestic investment, the retail plastic film and bag recycling sector has seen very limited growth.

GFG Circular Economy Solutions

Today, advanced recycling technologies as well as advanced specialty additives are paving the way for retail plastic film and bag circular economies!

New proprietary plastic recycling technologies such as wet and dry washing, filtration and purification systems, etc., enable processors to recycle post-consumer contaminated plastic films and bags, and produce high quality, certified recycled plastic resins, suitable for blown film applications.  Now, these sustainable resins (raw materials) can be reused directly into the retail circular economy, to make brand new film products including new grocery and shopping bags, trash bags and can liners, e-commerce shipping bags and so much more.  With state-of-the-art processing facilities now expanding regionally throughout North America, retailers have more resources than ever to increase recycling rates.

Additionally, new advanced specialty additives are helping improve plastic film and bag recycling rates, resulting in increased economic, environmental, and social brand value generated through the circular economy, including:

  • ”Bio-assimilation” additives that enable plastic bag manufacturers to make sustainable plastic bags that are both simultaneously recyclable and fully bio-degradable.
  • “Tracer” additives incorporated directly into new plastic bags, enabling retailers to gain complete visibility to verify the entire recycling and re-manufacturing circular economy chain-of-custody.

GearedforGreen’s retail plastic bag circular economies are strategic, collaborative, and transparent, connecting retailers, recycling and technology providers, with plastic film and bag manufactures, to provide limitless possibilities for retail plastic film and bag sustainability!

Essential Elements

  • GearedforGreen Circular Economy fully implements collaborative, connected, and transparent Circular Economy Partnerships among retailers, plastic film and bag manufactures, and recycling- technology providers that enable retail plastic bag Circular Economies to:
    • de-risk the recycling supply chain by creating diversified and closed loop markets, providing price indexing options, and ensuring transparent chain of custody recycling verification.
    • balance supply and demand as retailers play an active role in creating consistent, long-term and sustainable demand solutions for recycled materials.
    • drive social sustainable awareness and strengthen relationships between retailers and “activated” consumers.
    • create a “collaborative and proactive industry platform” that stays ahead of recycling mandates, such as SB270.  Working together transparently, retailers, recycling and technology providers, and plastic film and bag manufactures can increase recycling rates, increase recycled content in new bags, and continually improve plastic bag sustainability!