How You Can Help the US Plastic Recycling Industry

Recycle help Blog Cover Photo

Some of us need a nudge before we’ll take action.  The collective of recycling proponents and industry leaders got that when China implemented their National Sword campaign, which banned imported scrap plastics that didn’t meet their new, stringent contamination standards.

We recently got another shove in the form of India’s ban on all import scrap plastics.  India was a backup, a market where we could still unload some of our contaminated recycled plastics.  They just shut that door, slammed it in fact, which leaves us to wonder if our plastics recycling industry is in jeopardy.

It could be, but we can change that if we clean up our act.

You know what?  Losing the Chinese and Indian markets could be good for us if we utilize the opportunities.  We will have to do a better job of rinsing and sorting, including individual households and the corporations who are vying for the millennials buying power which favors companies who contribute to causes they support.  Switching to single-stream recycling, in which all recyclables are tossed into a single bin, certainly improved participation rates and was successful in diverting enormous amounts of material from landfills and incinerators.  It also made us complacent.  We aren’t as diligent to check the resin number or rinse containers.  The materials weren’t good enough for U.S. companies to use, and now they aren’t good enough for secondary markets.  The result is stockpiled tons of contaminated bales with nowhere to go except a landfill.  Failure.  Ouch.

Recycling is a relatively new industry.  The emphasis started with educating the public to recycle what is recyclable and induce them to expend their time and energy to take those products to local recycling centers or utilize the recycling containers provide if they were fortunate enough to live in an area that provided pick-up.  This, in itself, has been an uphill battle, with conflicting reports about the value of various recycled materials, debates on climate change and apathy, crammed schedules, or laziness from the public.  We’re getting better participation, but this is only one part of the equation.

Recycling has benefits far beyond environmental, which include jobs – collection, sorting, hauling, material sales, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail sales.  It is no longer a budding industry and has proven economic value in recycling the materials themselves, as well as the design and manufacture of equipment to perform all phases safely and efficiently.  Then there are construction jobs, as facilities are retrofitted or built from the ground up to house these operations.  Recycling is a drop that ripples in the economic pools of our local, state, and national backyards.  People understand jobs, and money, and understand the value of both.  Let’s put some emphasis on the economic benefits of recycling that trash collection doesn’t offer.  As we reduce contamination, the material value increases, providing jobs and raw materials for manufacturing.

These are good reasons to educate the public on proper recycling in your neighborhood, including what is and is not acceptable in the bin.  Train them how clean is clean enough – is a rinse good enough and which items need more.  Be a role model – each one, teach one.  If you see something that doesn’t belong, pick it out.  Teach your neighbors and co-workers.  Use signs, monitoring, group training.  Eventually, we won’t need so much oversight, because proper recycling will be second nature.  Success.

Sandra Anson, Director of Sales & Marketing, Polly Products

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