If you think that recycling plastic bottles is only good for the environment, the Carolinas Plastics Recycling Council has a message for you.
“Your Bottle Means Jobs” is the theme of the council’s new campaign to encourage people to keep plastic bottles out of their trash cans. The campaign stresses the economic benefits of recycling by highlighting the role of plastic bottles as commodities, the raw materials of an industry that directly employs about 1,700 people in North and South Carolina.
It could employ more, the council says, except North Carolinians throw away two of every three plastic bottles sold in the state, despite a state law that bans disposal of plastic bottles in landfills.
If each household in both North and South Carolina recycled two more bottles a week, it could create 300 new jobs in sorting and reprocessing plastic and turning it into clothing, carpet, pipe, lumber, toys and other products, said Chantal Fryer, who manages recycling market development for the S.C. Department of Commerce.
“Factories and processors in both states depend on good, quality post-consumer recycled bottles, and this manufacturing process starts in the recycling cart at the curbside of every Carolinas home,” said Fryer, speaking on behalf of the council, a joint effort of government agencies and recycling companies in the two states.
Companies such as Clear Path Recycling in Fayetteville and Envision Plastics in Reidsville look as far away as Mexico and Canada for recycled bottles to reprocess and provide to customers, says Rob Taylor of the recycling program at the Department of Environmental Quality.
“We have some of the biggest plastics recyclers in North America,” Taylor said. “And they are having to bring recycled bottles in from other places to meet their demand.”
The growing interest in “sustainable” products has boosted demand for the resin that Envision Plastics derives from recycled HDPE bottles, says company vice president Tamsin Ettefagh. The company processes more than 100 million pounds of milk, water, juice and household cleaner bottles a year, and goes as far as Haiti, Costa Rica and west of the Rocky Mountains to get them.
If more people from North Carolina recycled their bottles, it would save money on shipping and could broaden the market for reprocessed products made here, Ettefagh said.
“It creates value out of something that would have been buried,” she said. “I just don’t understand why everybody is not doing it.”
Plastics recycling in North Carolina got a boost about a decade ago in anticipation of the state law that banned disposal of recyclable plastic bottles in landfills starting on Oct. 1, 2009. Before that, only about a quarter of plastic bottles were recycled in the state, Taylor said.
But while the recycling rate for plastic bottles went up after the ban, it has since leveled off at only about a third, Taylor said.
That’s partly because the ban was never meant to be strictly enforced, says Jason Watkins, head of solid waste field operations for the state Division of Waste Management.
“We’re not trash-can police,” Watkins said. “We’re not going out to people’s houses and stuff like that.”
Instead, inspectors at landfills keep an eye out for truckloads of plastic bottles being discarded by retailers or diverted from recycling centers. That rarely happens, Watkins said. He’s unaware of the state ever issuing a citation for the plastic bottle ban.
And yet more than a billion plastic bottles end up in landfills in North Carolina every year, according to the plastics recycling council, stuffed in among the garbage from businesses or households, or in public trash cans on streets or in parks.
“We’re seeing plastic bottle disposal continuing to occur at the individual level,” Watkins said. “Life for most consumers is about conveniences, and where recycling is not convenient, they’re not going to recycle.”
The “Your Bottle Means Jobs” campaign aims to change that mindset. From mid-March to mid-May, the council will use radio ads, billboards and social media to encourage people to pledge to recycle two more bottles a week. Those who take the pledge online, at www.yourbottlemeansjobs.com, will be entered into a drawing for prizes that include a trip to Myrtle Beach and a $500 gift card.