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PET thermoformed container recycling program launches in Texas city

El Paso citizens will receive a cash incentive for their PET thermoforms through the pilot with Sam’s Club locations.

A six-month pilot project to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) thermoformed packaging launched earlier this month in El Paso, Texas. The program is a collaboration among Sam's Club locations in El Paso, Texan by Nature (TxN) and Texans for Clean Water (TFCW) and is described as “a fundamental step in TxN and TFCW’s goal of reducing litter in waterways and roadways through community-driven recycling.”

In North America, 1.6 billion pounds of PET thermoformed containers are discarded annually, and only 10 percent are recovered, TxN says in a news release about the project.

El Paso residents will receive cash incentives for PET thermoforms dropped off at all four Sam’s Clubs locations in El Paso for recycling. PET thermoformed containers include clear fruit and produce containers, trays, tubs, cups, lids and plastic egg cartons, for example. Data and outcomes from the project will be shared with other retailers as a model for replication and an example of supply chain circularity, according to TxN.

During the pilot project, consumers will use the MeCycle App to drop off their PET thermoforms and will receive cash incentives that they can claim through Venmo or donate to an El Paso charity. Green Impact Plastics, Vernon, California, will recycle the thermoforms, and manufacturer D6 will use the rPET in new packaging. To help improve the circularity of its supply chain, Sam’s Club also will explore opportunities to use the recycled packaging for some of its products.

“Litter and illegal dumping cost the city of El Paso $6 million per year,” TxN CEO and President Joni Carswell says. “This pilot has a goal of recycling 110,000 pounds of PET plastics over six months, keeping it off roadways and out of waterways. This collaboration between the citizens of El Paso, Texans for Clean Water and Sam’s Club will build on prior models of providing financial incentives for material return that have been successful in reducing litter and waste.”

Fully funded by Texans for Clean Water, the project dovetails with other litter research initiatives and public policy outreach. TxN is managing the pilot and working closely with community partners on messaging, education and promotion of the pilot. 

“We’re excited to play a role in making recycling more accessible for the El Paso community,” says Christopher Poulin, vice president, regional general manager of operations, at Sam’s Club. “This pilot aligns with our goals to become a regenerative company, and we’ll be exploring ways to use the recycled materials collected to make packaging for some of the products we sell.”

"This pilot is focusing on PET thermoforms, but it could be translated to other materials,” adds Maia Corbitt, president of Texans for Clean Water. “Point being, people don't toss loose change out car windows and will still stop to pick up a dime off the sidewalk. Plus, getting this material back supports Texas' recycling industry, and we're proud to champion projects that are a win-win for the environment and economy."