Are plastic bags actually recyclable?


Baggage Claims

Take a look at a plastic bag in your house (we all have a few, it’s ok 😏). You’re bound to see the well-known recycling symbol (aka the chasing arrows symbol) displayed on the side or bottom. This symbol now comes as a common assumption that the item can safely be recycled.

But can they?

Doing Better, and Backing It Up

If you’re here, you likely know what our blog is all about: drawing attention to companies and people doing business a little bit better. Today, we dive into a new case calling for action from plastic bag manufacturers: do they actually meet the new California recyclability standards?

Although the manufacturers claim the bags are fully recyclable, California Attorney General Rob Bonta is questioning those claims.

According to the Office of the Attorney General, “despite the manufacturers' claims and widespread consumer belief in recycling, plastic bags do not, in fact, appear to generally be recyclable, let alone ‘recyclable in the state,’ as required for such bags sold in California.” 

It’s Bonta’s job to ensure California is following all laws in place, and he’s committed to doing it a little bit better. In this case, he’s bringing light to Law SB 270, requiring that reusable plastic bags sold in California must be recyclable in the state.

Letters were sent to six major plastic bag manufacturers: Novolex, Revolution, Inteplast, Advance Polybag, Metro Polybag, and Papier-Mettler, requesting they provide evidence of actual recyclability or face potential enforcement action. 

Bonta’s inquiry is the perfect example of what we’re proud to highlight: businesses and people taking steps to make the world a little bit better. We’re especially proud of his fight to ensure recyclability because it’s a cause near and dear to the ChicoBag and To-Go Ware mission.

Our Past With Plastic’s Leaders

ChicoBag is no stranger to fighting the good fight against plastic in court. Back in 2011, three of the largest domestic manufacturers of single-use plastic bag bags filed a lawsuit against ChicoBag, claiming “irreparable harm” to their businesses by defaming their product through misinformation. The opposing companies were Hilex Poly Company, LLC, Superbag Operating, LTD., and Advance Polybag, Inc.

The information in question was the numbers on our “Learn the Facts” information page, a source that held widely accepted third-party statistics regarding the impact of single-use plastic bags on the environment. The companies claimed these statistics were false and misleading.

Bringing the Facts

When asked to refute these numbers and instead provide accurate statistics on environmental impact, the companies had little in response. On the other hand, the world’s top scientists and researchers provided expert testimony showing clearly that the facts on ChicoBag’s website only underestimated the impact of single-use plastic. Superbag and Advance Polybag dropped the case.

The case was eventually settled with Hilex Poly, ultimately resulting in agreements on both ends to provide citations and dates for all facts and statistics on any web page or advertising. The biggest win was Hilex Poly agreeing to print a message on their product to educate consumers on how to prevent wind-blown litter. This reversal and rare acknowledgment from the industry that plastic bags can become wind-blown litter despite proper disposal was a major shift in the decades-long campaign telling us “litter is created from litterbugs.” 

(P.S. Did you know? ChicoBag’s founder, Andy Keller, created ChicoBag after seeing plastic bags flying out of his local landfill into adjacent ranch land where cows were grazing.)

The takeaway:

These lawsuits against ChicoBag had the direct opposite effect of what the plastic bag manufacturers had hoped: instead of silencing an advocate of reuse, it only drew attention to the reusable movement and inspired others to take their own actions to reduce single-use plastic bag usage.

The Battle Made Us A Little Bit Better

Our past with the plastic bag battle received plenty of attention from the public, and it’s encouraging to see the fight now being continued in politics, where the movement will garner even more attention and action. 

Since our legal battle in 2011, there have been great steps toward reducing plastic waste from businesses far and wide, and we’re just getting started in highlighting them all on our Little Bit Better Blog. We’ve discovered phone cases that produce 80% less waste, 100% recycled yoga mats, and even a coffee roaster that operates on 100% recycled materials.

Claims don’t make change — it takes real steps and proven statistics to back the steps towards sustainability. 

Does your favorite company have the numbers to match the notions?

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