But the worst offender in the plastic bag realm? The white ones. You see, colored plastic bags can be made with a certain amount of recycled colored bags. But not the white ones. They need to be made almost completely from scratch.
According to Jennifer Berry in her article for Earth911.com, "A white plastic bag can only contain about 10 percent recycled content, which is typically only post-industrial, not post-consumer, waste. A blue bag can contain about 35 percent post-consumer recycled content, with gray bags moving closer to 40 percent."
Berry interviewed Phil Rozenski of Hilex Poly, a leading plastic bag manufacturer, who stated, “So, if you have a store that’s using a white bag, we can’t use recycled content in it because it will change the color,” he says. “We’ve been helping educate retailers that if they change to a brown or gray bag, we can start using 30 percent, 40 percent recycled content.”
Rozenski went on to explain that it's not as easy as you'd think to get their customers to purchase colored bags in place of white ones. Due to marketing aspects, many business owners like how their logos stand out better on white bags compared to colored ones. It's also a cultural issue: "From restaurants and grocers to pharmacies, white bags 'feel' more clean, fresh and new," writes Berry.
Another big issue with plastic recycling in general is that people aren't doing enough of it in the first place. Earth911 reports that U.S. recycling facilities aren't getting enough plastic in to be able to turn them into post-consumer recycled products. Plastic bag manufacturers are facing the same problem: Many people end up reusing them as trash bin liners and for pet poo and litter pickup, so they're ending up in the trash instead of in the recycling centers.
Bottom line: When shopping, bring along those reusable bags and make a conscious effort to not take white plastic bags home with you (Target shoppers, I'm talking to you). And don't forget to recycle the plastic bags that you already have. Many shopping centers will take back those bags and send them off to be made into new ones (i.e.: Publix).