Second Life: WasteZero’s Operation to Recycle Used Plastic Film

When WasteZero launched back in 1991, one of our goals was to make plastic trash bags from recycled materials.  We started by working with local schools to collect used plastic grocery bags, which the company used as a source material.  Fast forward to 2018, and WasteZero is still recycling plastic, but on a much bigger scale.

Using Recycled Materials

WasteZero makes plastic trash bags for hundreds of pay-as-you-throw programs, as well as a host of other municipal and private sector uses.  Unless customers specify new “virgin” plastic in their bags, we make our products using recycled materials.  Currently, about 90% of the products that come out of our plant in Hemingway, SC use recycled materials.

On the low-end, WasteZero bags will use about 30% recycled content.  On the high-end, the bags will use more than 90% recycled content.  The level of recycled content depends on the customer’s needs and specifications.

How Bags are Made

So, what does it mean if a plastic bag is made with recycled content?  Well, it helps to understand how plastic bags are made.  Normal, everyday trash bags are primarily made of linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE).  Here’s a high-level view of how it happens:

  1. The process starts with LLDPE resin granules as a key raw material.
  2. The LLDPE resin granules are melted down and combined with colorants and other materials to be made into plastic film. This is done using a blown film extrusion process.
  3. The film comes off the extruder in large rolls.
  4. The rolls are then used to feed bag lines, which convert the film into trash bags.

LLDPE resin granules, the core ingredient in making everyday trash bags.

WasteZero’s “Regrind” Operation

LLDPE resin granules can either be made from virgin plastic or from recycled materials.  WasteZero buys some virgin resin from a range of manufacturers.  However, we have our own recycling operation to make resin granules from used plastic.  These recycled resin granules or pellets are known as “repro,” which is short for “reprocessed.”

To make the repro, WasteZero brings in truckloads of used plastic bags and film.  This film comes from a range of post-industrial and post-consumer sources.  We then put the film through a “regrind” and purification process, in which it’s ground up and then filtered to remove paper and other contaminants.

Next, we extrude the regrind material into new plastic pellets (repro), which becomes a key raw material for making new film, bags, and so on.  We’re very proud of the fact that we help reduce waste in cities and towns across America. We’re also proud of how we reclaim and reuse old plastic to do it.

Image Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

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