New PLASTICS Project Finds New Value in Recycled Plastic Bags and Wraps

The findings of the report suggest there are further opportunities to extract value from these streams of mixed  polyethylene (PE) films—like plastic bags and wraps—that can be recycled efficiently, cost effectively, and used in numerous applications.

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS, Washington, DC) released the Phase I Technology Package and Literature Review from its New End Market Opportunities (NEMO) for film recycling demonstration project. The findings of the report suggest there are further opportunities to extract value from these streams of mixed polyethylene (PE) films—like plastic bags and wraps—that can be recycled efficiently, cost effectively and used in numerous applications.

“To combat environmental challenges like marine debris, PLASTICS is working to make sure that all plastic materials are put to their highest and best use, and that it’s always a better use of resources to recycle a product than to landfill it,” says PLASTICS’ President and CEO William Carteaux. “The NEMO project is just one of those efforts, and the results of its first phase suggest untapped opportunities exist for using these blended materials of recycled plastic bags, wraps and films.”

Launched by PLASTICS in 2017, the NEMO for Film project is a formal demonstration that aims to better understand different feed streams of PE films, improve the economics of recycling and explore new potential end markets in the U.S.

During phase I the project, PLASTICS’ NEMO for Film workgroup:

  1. Secured various return-to-retail samples of PE bags and wraps to determine the range of contamination and explored the degree of additional processing—like washing and drying—that would be required to make the samples viable for recycling and reuse.
      
  2. Performed a standard set of tests on processed samples to understand the mechanical and physical properties of the blended PE streams.
      
  3. Built a database of properties for post-consumer resin (PCR) PE blends and provided samples to end users to accelerate the exploration of PCR.

“Through our sample collection and evaluation during phase I, we were pleased to find that the sample material—even with some contamination—is very functional and can potentially be used in various end markets,” says Kim Holmes, PLASTICS’ vice president of sustainability. “In fact, the quality of the materials we collected exceeded even our initial expectations and have already led to further exploration.”

Based on phase I findings, the NEMO for Film workgroup determined that sufficient evidence suggests the high quality of the return-to-retail material warrants further exploration and development. Phase II and III are already underway, focusing on testing direct application in end markets like agriculture, industrial film and rotomolding.

To access the full Phase I Technology Package from the NEMO Film Recycling Demonstration Project click here. For the corresponding Literature Review, click here.

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