Virginia county expands plastics accepted for recycling

Rigid plastics to be accepted in curbside collections in Virginia's James City County and three other municipalities.

April 1, 2014
Recycling Today Staff
Municipal / IC&I Plastics

Residents of James City County, Va., and three other Virginia municipalities will join the ranks of districts that are accepting rigid plastics in their curbside recycling programs. Starting in July 2014, residents will be able to include plastics like yogurt cups and grocery store clam shells, among other plastic containers, in their recycling bins.

Vice President and General Manager of Atlanta-based Printpack Rigid Jamie Clark says he has been very passionate about the sustainability of rigid plastics. One of Printpack’s U.S.-based rigid plants is within James City County, which is also where Clark lives. As an officer of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) and the chairman of the affiliated Rigid Plastics Packaging Group (RPPG), Clark helped support a study on rigid plastics recovery within the county.

The Virginia Public Service Authority (VPPSA), which manages curbside collection for the four municipalities, led the initiative with support from Printpack and RPPG. The study showed when households were asked to recycle all of their rigid plastics, the entire quantity of recyclables went up by 20 percent, with polypropylene (PP) and nonbottle PET (polyethylene terephthalate) making up the majority of the increase. PET bottles, which are already included in the program, also saw a substantial bump, according to the study. Both PP and PET are highly recyclable and valuable to the industry, says Clark. In addition, nonrecyclable materials did not increase significantly, according to Printpack.

When collection of all rigid plastics for recovery had originally been put on the table for discussion with VPPSA, it was reluctant. The market for mixed plastic seemed to be centered overseas, and VPPSA wanted to be certain that if the material was collected, it actually would be recycled. Traditionally, the only plastics accepted were PET bottles and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) jugs with necks.

As the project progressed, VPPSA put its contract for collection out to bid. The request for quotes did not include collecting all rigid plastics because of the fear that insufficient economic incentives were present to collect the material, Printpack Rigid says.

Clark says he ensured the VPPSA that the domestic market was developing to handle these materials. “The expanded recycling won’t cost the localities more nor require a change in the regional contract.
There is enough market for the materials that contractors seem to be looking for more of this mixed plastic to buy.” Clark adds, “The scale of manufacturing in China shows the level of polypropylene consumed is three to four times of that in the U.S. We should not be surprised that Asia has high demand for this raw material. This is a good thing.”

A meeting was held in January 2014 with Printpack executives and representatives from SPI, the Southeast Recycling Development Council, County Waste, the material recovery facility and James City County’s Economic Development and General Services Departments.

“The meeting was targeted to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to expand plastics recycling locally,” Clark says. “County Waste came in with the attitude of, ‘we’re ready to do it, we’re already doing it elsewhere, so let’s roll.’ County Waste clearly understood that maximizing collection and recycling of all rigid plastics was profitable,” he says.

James City County Economic Development Group was instrumental in aligning the parties and moving this initiative forward, says Clark.