Recycling plastic going to waste? Local companies say not so

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After guzzling down the last swallows of water, you toss the plastic bottle into the nicely labeled bin, awarding yourself a sticker and pat on the back for your efforts as a conscientious steward of the environment. Because, you figure, that plastic will be rightfully processed and broken down into raw materials to be used again.

But maybe you didn't know that China, the recipient of the vast majority of recycled plastic in the U.S., enacted a Green Fence Policy earlier this year, meaning your recycling plastic may have gone to waste, literally. Some such plastics are "absolutely going to a landfill," says David Kaplan, CEO of Maine Plastics, in Quartz magazine. 

Thankfully, when it comes to local companies like Blue Star Recyclers and Bestway DisposalKaplan's claim appears to be inaccurate.

"[Because of] the beneficial situation of being small enough, we aren’t typically having to find alternate buyers for the material," says Andy O’Riley, president of the Vocational Electronics Recycling Network program at Blue Star. "We’re sending [plastic] intact to consolidators, who then send it to companies that can granulate it, then to the end buyer.

"There is definitely still a market for plastic," he adds. "There are still buyers for it and it still has value."

Corroborating this, Alicia Archibald, Bestway Recycling educator, stands by the "Bestway standard" to stay off the landfill bandwagon. Even though the Green Fence Policy has slowed down the movement of some of the plastics in circulation at the locally owned business, it has not prevented the plastic from being properly recycled, she says. 

"It’s forced more local market," she says. "We’ve found more brokers who are interested in the materials in the U.S. We’ve been able unable to move our plastic for a period of time, and it created a stockpile. But we hung onto it until we found a buyer for it."

Archibald says that the Green Fence Policy was intended to make sure that the U.S. wasn't exporting waste. Before this policy was enacted, it was an "industry standard" to bail up plastics #3 through #7, the harder-to-break down plastics, and sell as a low-grade plastic mix. But, China's policy doesn't allow for this mix to be imported anymore, so it's left to the recycling business to separate every single category of plastic, making sure what is shipped is actually wanted, she says.

As it happens, finding these buyers locally, instead of in other nations, is better for the economy, Archibald says. Space and equipment appears to be the only challenge faced in finding a buyer. "If we tell you we’re going to do something, that’s what we’re going to do," she says. "If we have to hang onto it [plastic] until we figure it out, we hang onto it until we figure it out."

So the next time you casually toss that water bottle into the recycling bin, know that your efforts aren't going unnoticed. And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, offer up some gratitude for these local businesses sticking to their guns. 

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