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Recycling Plastic Can Be Hard To Sort Out

January 21st, 2008

This is news to some consumers because recycling efforts in the United States are so decentralized, it has resulted in spotty user education and myriad dissimilar programs. Some cities collect all plastics and sort them out at the other end; others only collect certain types. Some offer customer incentives. Some don’t. Some use blue bins. Some use gray bins. Some use green bins. Some have said, to heck with it.

Who tracks it? Near as we can tell, no one. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that they know about some model programs, but don’t follow the big picture. The Environmental Protection Agency offers tips for advancing community recycling, but doesn’t round up the facts for every city or even state.

Industry leaders admit that the involved entities – plastic manufacturers, plastic recyclers and the cities and states that manage collection – have historically spun in their own orbits. States and cities operate under countless different mandates and laws; manufacturers, driven by marketing needs, churn out plastics that present new recycling challenges to recyclers, who must then assess whether the technology or the resale market can handle the new products. And at the bottom of this chain of action, the consumer, is often left scratching his or her head.

That is starting to change as more cities see how recycling can be profitable and plastics makers perceive the benefit of keeping in the green loop by helping facilitate the “end use” of their product.

After recycling began in earnest some 15 years ago in the United States, many cities failed to institute effective consumer education because their budgets were tight and they didn’t see the point, said Steve Alexander, spokesman for the APR. Now that the recycling processes have scaled up and proven they can earn a hard cash return, cities are taking notice.

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