When oil prices plummet, buying raw materials to produce new film plastics becomes cheap cheaper than investing in equipment and infrastructure to process and manufacture new products out of used film plastics. While some corporations make the conscious choice to use recycled plastics in lieu of increasing profit margins, this is not the norm for most businesses. This is especially the case when it comes to reusing film plastics, which are significantly more difficult to re-use than hard plastics. Frankly, from an economic standpoint it’s hard to place all of the blame on these businesses. Many are just trying to survive in a marketplace that doesn’t fully support or incentivize environmentally sustainable business.
What are film plastics?
A film plastic is any soft, flimsy, single-use plastic material that can be balled up in the palm of your hand. Another good test—knock the object against a hard surface. Did it make a thunk-ing noise? If yes, it is a hard plastic (and not what we are discussing here). If no, it is a film plastic, and the topic of discussion today.
Why Can’t Film Plastics Be Recycled?
In this day and age, recycling isn’t just about the environment—it’s about economics. In our current global economy, recycling is only sustainable if it’s profitable. That may sound strange, but let’s break it down… Furthermore, if few are willing to invest in the infrastructure needed to process recycled film plastics, then it doesn’t make sense from an economic or environmental standpoint for many recycling centers to collect them. Unfortunately, the amount of time, energy, and emissions it takes to collect and transport recycled film plastics that do not get utilized in the market far outweighs the benefits of rescuing them from the landfill. Ouch, I know! The truth hurts—but keep in mind we are specifically referring to film plastics, and there are actions we can take to address the issue.
What can I do?
When it comes to film plastics the best strategy is to reduce the amount we consume in our daily lives. Bring your reusable bags to the store; opt to buy unwrapped produce; fill up glass jars or paper bags at the grocery store bulk bins; choose to support sustainable businesses that use minimal film plastic packaging. When all else fails—reuse! Reuse a plastic bag as a garbage can liner for your bathroom trash; stop buying doggie bags and reuse your plastic bags to pick up after your furry friend; reuse zip lock bags for things like recycling old batteries on top of your recycling cart. There are countless small shifts we can make in our everyday lives to minimize the amount of plastic we consume. Just as some corporations prioritize sustainable practices over increased profits, we as a community can do our part by prioritizing environmental consciousness over the convenience of single-use consumerism. Yes, old habits may die hard, but adopting even one anti-film plastic practice each month can make a significant difference in the long haul. We make up the marketplace our economy strives to please—so in theory, we have the power to save film plastics from the landfill by refusing to use them! In the meantime, just remember, sustainable change takes time and starting somewhere small is better than not starting at all.
-Written by Jaime Crowley, Environmental Compliance & Outreach Coordinator at Marborg Industries.