Plastic Not-So-Fantastic

plastic_productsIf you think you consume and throw away a lot of plastic at your home, you probably do. Many people frankly don’t even get that far (i.e. thinking about it). But the business park you casually drove or biked by yesterday probably generates more in a day than you toss in a year. It’s amazing how much plastic is produced, consumed, and discarded in our “economy.” It’s petroleum, persistent, and in some cases, quite pernicious. The $1M question – can it be recycled?

Many metro areas have sophisticated recycling collection that accepts more than just soda bottles and yogurt containers. Many types of plastic films, bags, bubble wrap, shrink wrap, and hard plastic pieces can be recycled, though the results vary. Much of it is melted down to make plastic pellets that are sold to plastics molders who use the material to make new plastic goods. Flexible plastics such as PVC, however, contain chemicals that don’t melt down well and don’t have much of a useful afterlife.

The problem with plastic recycling is that most areas only take certain types of common plastics like soda bottles, milk jugs, and yogurt containers. The other “odd ball” plastics require you to go further afield, often delivering the goods to distant industrial parks and even paying someone to take it off your hands. The aftermarket for plastic junk is really on the decline – it’s just not worth much – and there’s too much of it.

The story is similar for Styrofoam, which is a catch-all (trademarked) term that probably originally applied to hardened polystyrene (but now is as commonplace as the word “Kleenex”) and now includes softer polyethylene (type 4) and polystyrene (type 5) foams. The stuff’s insidious, doesn’t break down in landfills, and has an even more challenging and sparse aftermarket than plastic.

If you live in the Portland metro area, here are a few good resources for you (click for company websites) for recycling of plastics, foams, batteries, lamps and lighting, electronic waste, and more:

Total Reclaim: (503) 281-1899

Denton Plastics:  (503) 257-9945

Pacific Land Clearing

Interstate Plastics:  (503) 251-0835

Quantum Resource Recovery

Far West Fibers

Of course, the best strategy is reduce the amount you or your business produces and consumes.  For situations where waste is hard to curb, explore the above resources (or find similar in your area). Happy recycling!!

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    missburrows said,

    As I was taking my morning walk here in Vancouver, WA I was delighted to see full recycling bins with almost every trash can at the curb. However, I was sad to see people throwing in items that won’t be recycled: bottle tops, plastic tubs, etc. I’ve been collecting mine and will do a trip to Far West in the near future.


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