Recycling of plastic has a bright future, with some materials that are produced locally prime candidates for new uses, according to an official of Dow Chemical.
Jerry Buss, senior development manager for Dow Plastics, told the Deseret News that polystyrene foam plastics - such as those manufactured by Huntsman Chemical in Utah - are highly recyclable. Buss is on a tour of the West to boost plastic recycling.Polystyrene may be used first for such items as foam cups and plates, he said. But at that point, its life is just beginning. After it is thrown away, that cup can be reborn in another form.
"That material is currently collected and ground up, made into flakes, reprocessed and then put back into many uses," Buss said.
For example, McDonald's restaurants collect the hamburger containers and other plastic material at many outlets. They are recycled, and "the material comes back to them in terms of serving trays," he said.
Other plastics are recycled into different products, from fiberfill material used to insulate vests and sleeping bags, to carpets, new bottles and office accessories.
"So here's a way of avoiding sending plastics to landfills and putting them to longer-term use."
Locally, he said, four recycling centers accept plastics. In addition, there are 25 drop-off centers in the Salt Lake area where they can be deposited for recycling, and Huntsman Chemical has donated 10 large recycling bins.
About 20 million pounds of polystyrene are being recycled per year, nationally. "To help further that, Huntsman and Dow, along with five other companies, have established the National Polystyrene Recycling Co. They are putting into place five major recycling centers in the U.S."
The nearest of these centers are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Dow Chemical is working on developing new uses for recycled material, he said. For example, plastic milk bottles can be made into a hard plastic material.
Education is a large part of the answer, recycling proponents believe. "In the next few weeks a program will be coming to one of the local high schools here called `Recycle This.' "
The program, due to arrive in a Salt Lake school the week of Oct. 9, will have rap music and skits to press the recycling message.
Although only 0.15 percent of the petroleum that America uses goes into plastic, he said, still it makes sense to recycle it. "If you have a material that can be recycled and put into other uses, why throw it away?"
A big impetus for recycling is the fact that parts of the country are running out of landfill space, although the Salt Lake County landfill should be good for another 20-25 years, he said. In the east, landfill space is growing short.
Just three years ago, 80 percent of all used material went into landfills. Now it's 73 percent, with 14 percent of the material being incinerated and 14 percent being recycled.
About 7 percent to 8 percent of the weight of material taken to landfills is plastics. Because plastic is light for its volume, this amounts to 18 percent by volume, Buss said.
With the new interest in recycling, about 25 percent of two-liter pop bottles finds a new use. "That equates to 200 million pounds, and that's expected to double within the next year," he said.
Where to recycle
The Deseret News was able to confirm that four local businesses accept plastic for recycling. However, none of them pays for household items. Containers should be cleaned before they are taken in.
- Smurfit, 1206 N. Beck St.,
- Recycling Corp. of America, 2600 W. 900 South,
- Utah Barrel, 370 W. 900 South, accepts household plastics such as milk jugs, pop bottles and bleach containers.
- Fiber Recovery, 572 S. 2165 West, accepts no household material but does buy industrial plastic from commercial enterprises.