True confessions: A plastics engineer gets personal with plastics recycling, part two


A little over a month ago, I decided to monitor my use of polyethylene film. (Read the first installment in this series here.) Part of me wanted to be environmentally conscious, to lower my carbon footprint, to be sustainable.

But the real reason is that I was curious. How much polyethylene (PE) film do I go through, each and every month?

plastic packaging waste

I started in September of 2019. As of Oct. 1, I had a small bag of film collected. In it, an assortment of PE film scraps, beginning with several dozen small bags from cabinet hardware I had bought for a chest of drawers I have been refurbishing. The bag itself was the large mailing envelope the hardware was shipped in. Then some small bags from assorted screws and nuts I bought at Home Depot. A couple of plastic bags from the produce section at Vons, a few more shipping envelopes, and a wrapper from a ham steak, washed and dried. Plus all the corner pieces and tear offs from the bags I had ripped open. All total about 250 grams, or 9 ounces, of plastic. Compressed, about the size of a football. It is now in the trunk of my car, ready to be deposited in a plastic bag recycling bin, as soon as I can find one.

As far as I  know, all this stuff that is explicity prohibited from San Diego curbside recycling should be acceptable in a plastic bag recycling bin. As far as I know. And I am a plastics expert.

It is Oct. 31 as I write this. Halloween. A scary day, indeed. My collection of PE film this month is about the same, with a  different assortment. Another large mailing envelope, another produce bag. Then some bags that used to hold frozen gel, from a refrigerated shipment. Each bag cut open, the gel cleaned out, then washed and dried. Also, some shipping pillows from Sealed Air. I have dozens in the closet in my office, my shipping department.

Then, a whole bag of small candy wrappers, from Halloween candy I was supposed to give out. I had to sample them for quality control purposes. The wrappers feel a bit different. They have a silky texture. I am not sure they are PE film, but that is not my problem. Or is it?

This collection weighs about 120 grams, or a little over four ounces. I stuffed it into the bag from September.

Now, I just need to find a recycling bin.

Part three of Larson’s quest will be published on Friday, Nov. 15.


Eric LarsonEric R. Larson is a mechanical engineer with over 30 years’ experience in designing products made from plastics. He is the owner of Art of Mass Production, an engineering consulting company based in San Diego, CA. Products he has worked on have been used by millions of people around the world.

Larson is also moderator of the blog site, where he writes about the effective use of plastics. His most recent book is Poly and the Poopy Heads, a children’s book about plastics and the environment. It is available on Amazon.

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