A Unique, Voluntary Approach to Recycle Plastic Retail Bags

Background/Introduction

Minnesota is well known for being at the forefront of environmental issues. As a result, Minnesota has many conservation resources available to assist residents and businesses with solid waste and recycling issues. One of those resources is the member-supported, non-profit Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM). RAM is the state affiliate of the National Recycling Coalition, Keep America Beautiful, and is the state organizer for America Recycles Day.

The It’s in the Bag program was launched in 2003 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area by Minnesota Waste Wise. It became a statewide program in 2009 and provides plastic bag and film recycling opportunities throughout Minnesota. RAM took over management of the program in June 2013.

Plastic Bag and Film Recycling

It’s in the Bag provides the opportunity for consumers and businesses to recycle plastic bags and film, oftentimes in communities where other recycling options do not readily exist. The program ensures that millions of pounds of film plastic is diverted from the landfill while at the same time providing employment for adults with disabilities, who collect and sort the plastic material in It’s in the Bag participating communities.

Businesses in the program, often retail operations that also collect loose film and bags for recycling, invite consumers and local businesses to deposit clean and dry plastic bags and film in specially marked collection bins. Work crews from various vocational centers around the state collect and transport the material to a processing facility where crews including adults with disabilities sort and bale the material. In addition to providing rewarding, innovative employment opportunities for these individuals, it provides businesses the opportunity the recycle material and save on disposal costs.

The keys to the ongoing success of It’s in the Bag are the central management of the program through a statewide non-profit, the individual community partnerships created through the program, a long-standing partnership with TREX who recycles most of the It’s in the Bag material into decking, and the many stores who participate in the program. The program now recycles more than 1,000,000 pounds of plastic bags and stretch film annually.

What Goes in the Bag?

The It’s in the Bag program accepts the following for recycling: Plastic film and stretch wrap, plastic grocery and retail bags, plastic dry-cleaning bags, plastic wraps from common household products (paper towels, napkins, bath tissue, etc.) plastic cereal liners, plastic produce and bread bags, and zip type food storage bags.

Keys to Success

The keys to the ongoing success of the It’s in the Bag program are the management of the program by a central organization (RAM), the community partnerships between retailers, businesses and vocational centers, and a long-standing relationship with Trex Company, Inc, which recycles most of the plastic film and bags into composite decking. The program currently recycles more than 1,000,000 pounds of plastic bags and film annually.