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Vancouver pilot program moves ‘Beyond Bags’

Collaboration with Safeway, others aims to turn plastic wrappers into composite lumber

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: August 24, 2015, 5:00pm
2 Photos
Starting Saturday, Safeway Stores throughout Clark County will accept polyethylene plastic bags and wraps for recycling. The plastic will be recycled into Trex composite lumber.
Starting Saturday, Safeway Stores throughout Clark County will accept polyethylene plastic bags and wraps for recycling. The plastic will be recycled into Trex composite lumber. Photo Gallery

plasticfilmrecycling.org

Don’t throw away that plastic wrapper that encases your rolls of toilet paper — it has a future as Trex composite lumber.

It doesn’t go in your blue recycling cart, though, because plastic wrappers clog up the machines at the regional recycling plant.

Now, there’s another option.

Starting Saturday, all 12 Safeway stores in Clark County will begin accepting clean, dry plastic polyethylene wrappers (also called “film”) and bags as part of a pilot program called “Beyond Bags — Recycling Plastic Wrap and Film.” In addition to packaging film, polyethylene plastic is used to make disposable grocery bags, bread bags, dry cleaning bags, plastic envelopes and newspaper bags.

The “Beyond Bags” program is a partnership between the city of Vancouver, Waste Connections, Clark County and its cities, Safeway, Trex and the Wrap Recycling Action Program, which is headed by the American Chemistry Council’s Flexible Film Recycling Group.

The public is invited to bring their plastic bags, wrap and questions to the “Beyond Bags” launch event from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Cascade Park Safeway, 13719 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. There will be refreshments and giveaways. The syndicated “Weekend Warrior” radio program (KPAM 860) featuring Parr Lumber representatives will broadcast from the event, talking about recycling and interviewing local officials and national experts.

The stores will send the plastic to the Safeway distribution center in Clackamas, Ore., to be baled and then trucked to Trex’s manufacturing facility in Nevada. Trex uses recycled materials to make wood-alternative decking and lumber. It takes roughly 2,250 plastic bags to make a standard 16-foot composite lumber board.

“This actually becomes a really valuable resource, and it has a market,” said Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for Vancouver’s Public Works department.

The goal of the program is to increase awareness that plastic wrappers and bags do not go into blue recycling carts. This would reduce the equipment clogs the materials cause at the regional West Van Material Recovery Facility. (Once the plastic is cut out of the sorting machines, it’s too dirty to be recycled and must be thrown away.) In addition, recycling polyethylene into other products consumes less energy than making new products from scratch, said Tanya Gray, solid waste supervisor for the city of Vancouver.

“We want to provide a convenient and comprehensive solution to keeping all of that plastic out of the environment and in our economy,” she said.

It’s also important for people to reduce waste they generate by, for example, not using disposable grocery bags if they’re buying just a couple of items, Gray said. And if they do take bags, they should find ways to reuse them, such as for trash. Bags that aren’t reused should be taken to Safeway — and they must be clean and dry.

The city isn’t getting revenue from the program, Gray said. However, when the regional recycling plant runs efficiently and there are fewer contaminants in the recyclables, the city gets a higher value for them.

“Although we’re not being paid directly for it, the community is benefiting as a whole,” Gray said.

At the end of the pilot program, the partners hope to bring on more retailers to accept polyethylene for recycling.

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