Monday, June 13, 2011

Featured Opinion: Product Stewardship and Pellet Bags

Green heat is great – except where it generates waste in another area, such as pellet bags. What is your industry doing in terms of producer responsibility when it comes to pellet bags? The Chittenden Solid Waste District manages the waste and recyclables for a quarter of the population of Vermont. We get calls all the time about recycling pellet bags. After all, the bags all have the recycling symbol printed on them. As you must know, not everything with a recycling symbol stamped on it are actually recyclable at all or in most regions. Here, we have to tell your customers’ customers to reuse them or throw them in the trash.

That’s because filmy plastic is difficult for single-stream recycling facilities to sort out. That’s also because residue from the pellets is considered contamination by recycling markets, and we don’t have the staff, time, or facilities to rinse them all out, let them dry, and get them to market. I would venture to guess that most of your markets are in the same situation, where they cannot accept bags for recycling. Another reason is that some bags are made of laminated layers of plastic(s), which is also unacceptable in most markets. We simply do not have the resources to set up a program for accepting all the types of products that producers market.

Product stewardship is becoming less of a buzz word and more of the law of the land these days. To force computer manufacturers to produce products containing fewer toxins and more easily recyclable, laws have been passed to require them to take back their own products in several states. Same thing with some mercury-containing products, such as thermostats and CFLs. Same thing with paint. Same thing with a growing list of products, spurred on by municipalities whose resources are exhausted from being expected to manage myriad products that were not designed with responsible disposal in mind.

Why not get ahead of the game and come up with a product stewardship program in your industry. Have your vendors accept the bags back from customers and back-haul them to a central location where you can prepare them for recycling, and find a recycler that will accept contaminated bags?

If your efforts are geared towards making pellet stoves ubiquitous, you must take responsibility for the waste you are causing people to generate as a result.


Clare Innes

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Clare Innes

Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Chittenden Solid Waste District

Phone: 802-872-8100 ext. 207

Williston, VT


  1. Absolutely dead on. We sell pellet fuel, burn pellet fuel, and do everything we can locally to re-use these bags. We have also looked into setting up a local collection area with the intent on finding a recycler who will take them, to no avail. The vast majority of the bags we and our customers generate just end up in the waste stream. The pellet fuel industry is slowly moving toward bulk delivery and bulk storage of fuel for residential customers, but bags will still remain the primary container for pellet fuel for many years to come...

    We certainly feel a sense of guilt when it comes to selling and using bagged fuel. As a long time member of the 'hearth products' industry, we add our voice to those who believe the pellet fuel industry must come up with an alternative.

  2. Why not make the bags from a corn based instead of plastic? Then they are less of a burden on the environment as the breakdown in land fills.

  3. I would advocate strongly against corn-based or any other "biodegradable" bags. They require light and air to degrade -- both elements missing in the depths of an anaerobic landfill. Additionally, if bag recycling were to take off, the entire biodegradable bag would be considered a contaminant. Manufacturers must take the product stewardship mandate seriously and, as an industry, come up with practical solutions.