Thursday, February 01, 2007

No Market?

I was surprised to hear Mark Mehall from Solid Waste Management say there's no market for plastic bags. In short, I disagree. According to Jeff Ashby, Director of Rocky Mountain Recycling, businesses like Wal-Mart make a considerable profit from selling plastic bags. That's particularly the case now that oil prices have increased--why?--well, because plastic bags are made from polyethylene, a form of petroleum (i.e., crude oil). So, five years ago, before oil prices increased, Rocky Mountain Recycling sold 1lb of plastic bags for 3-5 cents. But these days, plastic bags are sold for 15-20 cents per lb. Basically, their profits have tripled in the last five years due to increased oil prices.

Moreover, companies like Trex and AERT purchase these bags to create new products (i.e., lumber), which are then sold to stores like Home Depot. To get a price check on plastic lumber, I called the Home Depot store in Mishawaka. Bob, an employee at Home Depot, quoted the prices on treated pine and composite (i.e., plastic) lumber for comparison. For a 6 in width, 16 ft length of lumber, the pine costs $15.97 and the composite costs $28.97. Notice the composite lumber costs almost twice as much as the treated pine. Bob quickly pointed out another difference: with the composite lumber, there is no maintainance. But with the treated pine, there is--basically, you have to apply a sealant to the pine to protect it against the elements once every 2 years.

So there is a market for plastic bags. Recycling companies get a profit for selling bags to manufacturers; and manufacturers get a profit for selling their products to consumers.

Knowing this information, however, leaves me with yet another puzzle: Why is this information not widely known to the public?


Anonymous said...

That was shocking. Wal-mart gets a lot of negative publicity for the fact they pay their workers poorly and won't unionize, etc. and here, in my naivete, I thought they were just doing a good thing by recycling those bags. Turns out they're making money off of it! I think it's terrible that that information isn't widely known because if it were, people would be more likely to donate their bags knowing that something useful was being done with them. I'm all for recyling those bags, but this also leads me wondering if just anybody can collect those bags and sell them for a profit to the manufacturing companies.

Michelle Verges, Project Director said...

I hope folks realize this issue is not *just* about the environment, and it's certainly not *just* about business. It's really about both!

I'm not sure why we tend to think this is a one-sided issue. For example, when we think about recycling, we automatically think about the environment. What we don't do is associate recycling to business.

What I'm suggesting is that we need to consider BOTH economics and the environment at the same time!