Smarterbags, a recycled and reusable plastic bag, is a product of Command Packaging and Encore Recycling.
Smarterbags, a recycled and reusable plastic bag, is a product of Command Packaging and Encore Recycling.

(UPDATED COVERAGE Aug. 19) As California cities ban single-use plastic grocery bags, reusable bag manufacturer Command Packaging plans to step up production in October by opening Encore Recycling in Salinas.

The 130,000-square foot recycling facility, a retrofit of a former Monterey Gourmet Foods site, is slated for the city’s Firestone Business Park.

Encore Recycling expects to employ 40 initially and 100 by 2014.

“We believe there is in excess of 100 million pounds of plastic in California agriculture, and we intend to expand as rapidly as we can to be able to collect and process all of it,” said Pete Grande, chief executive officer of both companies. Command Packaging is based in Vernon.

Encore Recycling has arranged to collect and recycle plastic from Dole Berry Co., Driscoll’s, Pacific Gold Farms Inc., Ramco and Red Blossom Strawberries, among others.

San Francisco already has a ban on single-use bags. Another is due to take effect in 2014 for Los Angeles. Reusable bags under the smarterbags label are already sold in San Francisco and elsewhere in California, Grande said, though not in grocery chains yet.

“That’s the plan, to introduce the product and get grocery chains buying it,” Grande said. “It makes perfect sense when you think their produce is coming from the Central Valley. And the same growers who have a responsibility to be sustainable now can be even more sustainable when they send us their plastic and we turn it into a reusable bag.”

Shoppers in areas with the bans can still obtain paper bags for 10 cents each, if they’re not providing their own bags. Smarterbags, which can be used repeatedly, should be available for the same amount, Grande said, though ultimately it’s the retailer who sets prices.

“This is a brand new business,” he said. “We have recycled in our Vernon operation for a number of years. Rather than do it as we did here, which was much more small scale, this is full scale, completely focused on the agricultural film and plastic market.”

“It offers us the unique opportunity to avoid sending approximately 135 tons of agricultural plastic to the landfill,” Dole Berry Co. spokesman Thomas Flewell said in a news release.

Instead of recycling plastic and searching for buyers, the idea is to use it for a set purpose: bags.

“We have mountains of plastic that growers use and it’s heading to landfills,” Grande said. “In Europe that plastic is collected, cleaned, recycled and used to make reusable bags that customers buy at the grocery stores for affordable prices. They can use them hundreds of times.”

According to the company, the bags can be folded, cleaned and recycled again when no longer useful.

Encore Recycling’s general manager is Aviv Halimi. The company plans to eventually employ 500 in Salinas.