Post-consumer plastic film recycling, already a laggard compared with other plastics, is taking it on the chin thanks to new investigations tracking the material.
Both ABC News and the nonprofit environmental group The Last Beach Cleanup
put trackers in plastic film placed in consumer drop-off locations at stores in an effort to see what happens to the material.
And the results are brutal.
Jan Dell leads The Last Beach Cleanup and is an outspoken critic of plastics who calls plastics recycling a hoax.
Dell and ABC News worked independently of one another, but the results are similar. She has long believed store drop-off of used plastic bags is essentially selling the public a bill of goods.
"I call it 'The Great Store Drop-off Charade,' she said. "Consumers are being fooled."
ABC News worked with nine local television stations in different parts of the country to place 46 trackers in bundles of plastic bags returned to drop-off bins at Walmart and Target locations. The result is "Trashed: The Secret Life of Plastic Recycling."
Exactly half of those trackers ended up at landfills or incinerators and another seven were last heard from at waste transfer stations that do not send material for recycling. Six more last pinged at stores and the fate of three trackers remains unclear, according to ABC News. Three more found their way to Southeast Asia: two in Malaysia and one in Indonesia.
Of the 46 trackers, just four pinged at facilities that recycle plastic bags, ABC News said.
Attempting to track recyclables is not new, but the advent of affordable tracking devices commonly used to keep track of keys, purses and other personal items means the exercise has become more high-tech. In the past, people suspecting their recyclables were being trashed literally followed collection vehicles. And when they drove to landfills instead of the recycling centers, that made for news, especially during television ratings weeks.
Dell's results were even more stark than what ABC News uncovered.