A great future in plastics

Plastic bags

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: I just wanna say two words to you. Just two words. Are you listening? Plastic bags. There's a great future in plastic bags. Will ya think about it? From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Jule Gardner reports.


JULE GARDNER: Hear that?

That's the sound of plastic bags taking over your life, magically multiplying in that space between the wall and your fridge. You may think you have too many plastic bags, but there's no such thing for the Virginia-based Trex Company.

Accounts manager Ray Hampton:

RAY HAMPTON: "A thousand bags equal about seven pounds and we typically purchase thematerial in 40,000-pound increments, which pretty much fills up a tractor trailer."

That's a lot of bags and Trex is one of a few companies giving them new life.

Trex chops them up, mixes them with wood pulp, and then shapes them into boards. The boards are used for decks that never need to be treated or stained.

Termites don't like them, but designers do because the boards can be bent and custom-colored. And there's a good chance that if you recycle your plastic bags, they'll end up at one of the Trex factories.

Here in Winchester, assistant production supervisor Steve Orndorf explains the process.

STEVE ORNDORF: "Down here is where we receive our plastic in, we receive polyethylene bags. Each line has a wood hopper. Wood hoppers are just recycled woods, hard woods. They are combined together at about a 50-50 ratio and then formed into a board."

Trex's Ray Hampton says different products can be made out of this composite. Some other companies make fencing, railroad ties, even plastic garden tools. And lots of different materials qualify as fodder.

HAMPTON:"This material is some over-wrap that went around paper towels, this is some other tissue covering. Newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, all that stuff."

But there's a catch. Typically the only place to drop off your bags is in those bins at the grocery store. The American Plastics Council is working on how to expand plastic-bag recycling. You can check that out at plasticbagrecycling.org.

But beyond that, here's some advice from the council's Robert Krebs:

ROBERT KREBS:"Uh, they're a great mitt for things you don't want to touch, like picking up after your dog. They're umbrella holders so that you can put that wet umbrella inside of your purse or inside your briefcase so that it doesn't flood it. There's shoe covers, you know when you come in from the mud and you don't want to track it all over your house . . ."

And he's got another idea to keep bags organized before they become either decking material or doggie gloves: Stuff them in an old sock, cut the toe off and pull them out one by one.

For Marketplace, I'm Jule Gardner.

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