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Where Does The Plastic You Recycle Actually Get Used?

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Where Does The Plastic You Recycle Actually Get Used?
Where Does The Plastic You Recycle Actually Get Used?

Posted on Monday, March 14, 2016
By: J.P. Mascaro & Sons
Categories: Recycling

According to the last EPA report, Americans generated 33 million tons of plastics in 2013, but recycled only nine percent of that. The rest ends up in landfills where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, and potentially leak pollutants into the soil and water. Beyond that, it’s estimated that as much as 100 million tons of plastic debris is floating in the world’s oceans, threatening the health and safety of marine life.

Despite the billions of dollars spent on consumer awareness campaigns and sorting technologies over the past two decades, fewer than 35% of households and less than 10% of businesses in the U.S. recycle. If the U.S. recycling levels would reach 75%, it would be the environmental benefit of removing 50 million cars from the road each year. So if it’s that important, what do we need to do to get better at recycling?

Ongoing wide-spread education and persistence is, perhaps, the best answer. But rather than bludgeon you with a plethora of recycling factoids, let’s just focus on one for now: Plastic.

  • Five recycled plastic bottles provide enough fiber to create one square foot of carpet or enough fiber fill to fill one ski jacket.
  • Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.
  • Recycling one ton of plastic bottles saves the equivalent energy usage of a two person household for one year.

It’s a pretty big deal. Would it help you to know where the plastic bottles you throw in the recycle bin get taken, what they go through, and where they end up being used? Walk this way:

  1. Your recycle bin gets emptied into a collection truck and is sent to a sorting facility. New groundbreaking, state-of-the-art single-stream recycle facilities like TotalRecycle in Birdsboro, PA contain cutting-edge technology that allows for the precise sorting and processing of recyclable materials. Facilities of this magnitude are capable of processing 700 tons of recyclables a day!
  2. Plastics that can be recycled are then washed, shredded and rid of impurities like paper. The shreds are often melted and formed into pellets, which can be made into other products.
  3. Leading building materials manufacturers like A.E.R.T. in Arkansas, and Virginia-based Trex Company recycle polyethylene into outdoor high-performance, eco-friendly composite decking material, fencing, and door and window components. As the largest polyethylene plastic recycler in the United States, Trex annually consumes more than 1.5 billion recycled plastic bags as well as other household plastics like newspaper sleeves and sandwich bags (but don’t throw these into your recycle bin please! Go to to find special drop-off locations near you). In addition, Trex salvages and keeps more than 400 million pounds of plastic and wood scrap out of landfills each year.
  4. CarbonLITE is a leading producer of bottle-grade raw material used to make new bottles, and opened a 220,000 square-foot plant in Riverside, CA in 2012. As the world’s largest bottle-to-bottle plastic recycling plant, the facility has the capacity to recycle over two billion PET bottles annually, helping America save 48 million gallons of gas. Prior to the plant’s opening, bottles from California were exported to China and down-cycled into polyester fiber. CarbonLITE brought those valuable resources and jobs back to the United States.
  5. Innovative Oregon-based Agilyx Company developed a process to turn plastic of all types into synthetic crude oil (which can be refined into ultra-low sulfur diesel, gasoline, or jet fuel), as well as synthetic lubricants and greases, some of which can be made back into plastic. The base system can convert 10 tons of plastic into 60 barrels of oil each day.
  6. German shoe giant, Adidas is sprinting forth with their plan. In 2015 they unveiled a new concept running shoe that includes a unique 3D-printed midsole, and is made entirely of recycled ocean waste. Adidas executive Eric Liedtke said, “We want to bring everyone from the industry to the table and create sustainable solutions for big global problems." Most would agree that is certainly a step in the right direction!
These are just a few of the growing number of innovators, leaders and heavy hitters working to make the world a better place by keeping your plastics out of the landfills and oceans. However, the best solutions for our plastic problem start at home. We all need to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible, on every level. Being conscientious stewards of our environment and teaching our children and grandchildren to do the same so that they will carry the torch ever further, is our best hope for sustainability.

Tagged:Green, Recycle, Recycling, Education, Sustainability, Landfills, Environment, Evironmental Responsibility, Plastic Bottles

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