J.P. Mascaro and Sons, a Pennsylvania-based recycling company, recently declared itself ready to be the first recycling plant in the United States operating a pilot program that accepts plastic shopping bags as part of the usual recycling stream.

The experiment, which Mascaro hopes will start in the late spring at its TotalRecycle Inc. plant near Birdsboro PA, “could revolutionize the recycling industry,” the company claimed.

Shopping bags and other forms of container products known to the recycling trade as “flexible plastic packaging” are generally banned from curbside recycling collections, such as those Mascaro now conducts weekly across many municipalities. Some packaging contains quantities of recyclable paper that contaminate the plastic, and some recycling sorters now in use cannot accommodate flexible material.

J.P. Mascaro & Sons is part of a two-year pilot program to recycle plastic packaging (i.e., grocery store bags)

There are several advantages flexible plastic packaging has over other packaging materials. It is durable, less costly to manufacture, and lighter and easier to transport. That makes it an ideal choice for all kinds of businesses. So far though, according to Mascaro, the bulk of such plastic has ended up in landfills.

It hopes the pilot program will change that. New machinery at the heart of the project can detect and separate flexibles from other recyclables. Company spokesman Frank Sau proclaimed the additional equipment “is to recycling machinery what the Ferarri is to automobiles.” It’s already been installed at the two-year-old facility in Exeter Township (above), and is being tested “to work out the bugs.”

The plant processes 20,000 tons of recyclables each month. Adding flexibles would grow its volume. Estimates indicate TotalRecycle will produce 3,100 tons annually of high-quality post-consumer flexibles’ feedstock for new end-market uses.

Mascaro is working in a joint effort with “Materials Recovery for the Future,” a research group of leading retail brands, manufacturers, and packaging companies that have a vested interest in flexibles’ recovery and recycling. The pilot is being supervised by Resource Recycling Systems, an Ann Arbor MI recycling consulting firm.

The company hasn’t formally decided which municipality in Berks or Montgomery County, that is under contract with Mascaro and uses “covered recycling trash cans,” will be selected as ground zero for single-stream curbside recycling of flexibles. The need for covered recycling would seem to rule out Lower Pottsgrove as a test location; its recycling bins are open and uncovered.

Mascaro is thinking beyond the test, too. “We plan to roll (out) this program to all our residential customers in two years from inception,” Sau said. Company officials believe its results will prove the economic feasibility of including flexibles with other recyclables, and keep them out of landfills.