Wrapping Up A Plastic Problem

NC State now recycles plastic in its thinnest form.

The Waste Reduction and Recycling office partners with strategic campus departments to collect and divert plastic film from the local landfill. This include #2 and #4 plastic film such as plastic air pillows found in shipping boxes and stretch wrap.

“The weight of plastic film isn’t high but there’s a lot of volume,” said Adam Bensley, a waste reduction coordinator with NC State Waste Reduction and Recycling.

For more than a year, Talley Student Union has collected and recycled plastic film from the dozens of shipments it receives weekly. Last year alone, recycling totals topped 802 pounds.

“Without this recycling program, all that would go to the landfill,” Bensley said.

Plastic film waiting for recycling in Talley Student Union. 

Success in Talley has led to expansion of the program. Waste Reduction and Recycling added four other campus locations that receive frequent shipments: College of Veterinary Medicine and its hospital, Avent Ferry Technology Center, D.H. Hill Library and James B. Hunt Jr. Library. In all these locations, plastic film recycling is limited to warehouse or delivery areas This ensures that only the acceptable types of plastic are collected.

Once collected, plastic film requires a unique recycling process. Waste Reduction and Recycling partners with the nearby Food Lion on Western Boulevard. Bags and other plastic film collected at the store are sent to a regional facility for baling and then sold in bulk to companies that make composite lumber.

“Plastic film is difficult to recycle and is not accepted with the rest of the University’s recycling. One of the only markets for it is with the composite lumber manufacturers, and you need much higher volumes than we produce to work directly with them,” Bensley said. “Food Lion’s corporate sustainability program and local store have been great partners on this program.”

In addition to making composite lumber for decks, patio furniture and playground equipment, plastic film can be recycled into new bags, containers or pipe.

“We constantly look for opportunities to recycle unwanted materials into useful products,” Bensley said. “It’s a win-win.”

Plastic bag recycling is not currently offered on campus but is available at most grocery stores.