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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Environmental and Financial Analysis Comparison of Single-Use Plastic Bags and Reusable Bags Used for Collecting and Transporting Commercial Recycling

Plastic bag that says thank you

Group Members: Karla Bonilla Cordero, Kat Cotti, Larissa Neilson, Morganne Sigismonti

Faculty Advisors: Matthew Potoski

Client: WSP Sustainability, Energy, and Climate Change Consulting Group




The Climate & Sustainability sector of WSP Global Inc. is proposing implementing reusable recycling bags (RRBs) in onsite commercial recycling operations to a corporate client. WSP’s goal is to directly reduce consumption of single-use plastic garbage bags (SUPGBs) in onsite recycling and indirectly decrease recycling contamination downstream. The United States’ recycling infrastructure is ill-equipped to process many plastics, including SUPGBs; these bags jam recycling equipment, cause work stoppages, and reduce the value of recycled goods. Additionally, SUPGBs contribute to intensive landfill accumulation and ecosystem degradation.

While plastic grocery bags have garnered significant scientific and media attention, leading to widespread plastic bag taxes and bans across the world, SUPGBs have had virtually no public or policy opposition in light of the environmental damages they cause. SUPGBs are cited as one of the main contaminators of commercial business recycling; however, businesses continue to use SUPGBs as liners for recycling receptacles because there are limited viable and cost-effective alternatives on the market. Currently, the environmental and financial tradeoffs of using SUPGBs versus RRBs are unknown.

This project will analyze the environmental and financial tradeoffs of both bags through: (1) Life Cycle Assessment, and (2) a case study financial analysis of implementing RRBs at WSP’s client’s corporate campus. The project will generate a calculator and marketing tool to inform WSP’s client of the environmental and financial tradeoffs of switching their use of SUPGBs to line recycling bins to RRBs on their campus. The resulting calculator and marketing tool will also be used to inform WSP’s other corporate clients, as well as their industry affiliates and competitors, and help them understand the environmental and financial tradeoffs of using SUPGBs versus RRBs in onsite recycling operations. Ultimately, this project can use informed research and professional outreach to reduce SUPGB consumption, downstream recycling contamination, and the various environmental implications of plastic waste.

Client contact: Stacy Katz

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