February 4, 2023

The Predicament with Flexible Plastic

Flexible Plastics

What are flexible plastics? Is it the stretchy saran wrap that you seal leftovers with? Or is it the plastic bags that you get at the grocery store? Well long story short, it is both of them and more! Flexible plastics are defined as a plastic that does not have an outer shape maintained by a fixed framework. This would include things such as saran wrap, plastic bags, laminates, etc. These products are great for molding to their environment and can typically be used for packaging products. These items sound great so far, but as we know, plastic is a tricky subject when it comes to its recyclability. Most municipalities that offer recycling programs will take a certain degree of plastics ranging from plastic #1-#7 but very rarely will they take them all. Check with your local recycling ordinance to determine what you can recycle. Most places do not accept flexible plastic in their waste, but why is that? Most recycling facilities have multiple machines that help separate the items from one another. These machines contain gears which the flexible plastic can get caught on and cause issues. If the item is slowing down the process and endangering machinery, it is most likely going to be kicked off the list of accepted materials. If you have ever used a ziploc bag you know that it can be used to store a variety of items, making it extremely versatile. This versatility, while great on the front-end, is not so great for recycling on the back-end. These bags usually are contaminated with food items or layered with a lining material that is impossible or very difficult to separate. These challenges and the risk for contamination of other recyclable materials is  why flexible plastic can not always be recycled. Contamination is the key issue with recycling and the reason that the recoverability rate in the United States is so low. What can we do to lower our usage of flexible plastics and increase the recoverability of other recyclable materials? Switch to reusable products, such as washable zip-lock bags, or non-plastic grocery bags. If switching is too much of a hassle, re-use the flexible plastic as many times as possible, and when done dispose properly according to your local municipality’s rules and regulations.

How Does This Pertain To CIRT?

If you find it difficult to figure out what is/ is not recyclable in your area, CIRT can help! CIRT uses an accurate and consistently updated geospatial database that access recycling information all across the United States. CIRT can pull your location and let you know how to dispose of your produce.