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Proper recycling could better support Ohio businesses that depend on what we throw out

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Posted at 1:46 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 18:14:16-05

CLEVELAND — We’re all spending more time in our homes, changing what we buy and how we get it.

Companies that depend on what we recycle to operate are noticing.

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Before 2018, large amounts of our recycling could go from our curbside bins to China. Starting in 2018, China became more selective about what it would accept, driving the demand and price for recycled materials way down.

The plastic and glass they need to break down and turn into other items is slightly harder to get because so many of our habits and social gatherings have changed.

Most people might not know it, but how well they recycle at the curb has big “downstream effects” in a long recycling journey that keeps many Ohio companies running.

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The recycled materials we leave at the curb can be turned into products we might buy off store shelves a few weeks later.

“You know, it’s like once we throw it away, it’s like, ‘out of sight, out of mind,” said Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District Master Recycler Rechelle Williams.

She teaches her neighbors about how to recycle better through the program.

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Recycled plastic is reduced to these plastic flakes, which get turned into pellets, which can then be molded into new materials.

“I was not expecting to be so overwhelmed by the amount of garbage that we create,” said Williams.

Companies like O-I Glass try to reuse that garbage.

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O-I Glass can take recycled glass and turn it into other glass products within 30 days.

“Glass and glass containers are infinitely recyclable,” said O-I Glass Vice President of Global Sustainability Jim Nordmeyer.

Nordmeyer says only about a third of the glass that could be recycled is actually collected. The more that gets picked up, the bigger impact O-I can have, creating new products like beer bottles and pasta sauce containers within 30 days of glass being collected at the curb.

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Nordmeyer says the glass industry could take in more recycled glass, if only it was collected.

“We [O-I Glass and its competitors] can consume nearly all the glass in the market, but it’s not being collected,” said Nordmeyer.

In the plastics market, smart recycling can take a plastic jug with a lifespan of a few months next to the washing machine and help make a pipe that can be used in the ground for the next century.

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Storm pipes like these can be made partially from recycled plastic and will be in use for a century, reducing the chance that this recycled material takes up space in a landfill.

“The benefit is we’re removing that material from the waste system,” said Advance Drainage Systems (ADS) Director of Sustainability Dan Figola.

ADS makes plastic stormwater pipes that are needed in agriculture and construction. Some of the pipes can be made with up to 80 percent recycled plastic, depending on what it’s going to be used for.

ADS can take a plastic jug from a curbside collection and make it part of a plastic pipe in about 60 days.

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Figola checks pipes for information telling him how much recycled plastic is in the finished product.

“We provide an outlet for that material and that’s really one of the key steps,” said Figola. “If there’s no outlet then there’s no benefit to collecting and sourcing that material.”

Solid Waste District Executive Director Diane Bickett says businesses like these are the best way to make recycling easier for cities to afford, creating a larger market for the stuff that residents are throwing out.

An added bonus is when the companies are located in Ohio, like Pratt Industries in Wapondoneta, allowing them to cut down on transportation costs.

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Materials that don't go into your curbside bin can still be recycled, you may just have to drop them off to specific locations.

“We have homes for plastic bottles and jugs here in Bowling Green and Clive, Ohio,” said Bickett. “We have homes for paper and cardboard through Pratt and other papermills…we need many more of those.”

The problem many communities run into is recycling properly.

About 25-30 percent of what Americans try to recycle actually needs to be thrown in the trash, making recycling less efficient and more expensive.

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You can figure out where your non-traditional recyclable materials should go by checking out CuyahogaRecycles.com.

Cleveland’s recycling contamination was so high that it couldn’t find a company that would process its recycled materials for a price it could accept, meaning the city hasn’t recycled curbside materials since April 2020.

“It’s an uphill battle worth fighting because we only have one planet,” said Nordmeyer.

If you’re wondering how to recycling properly, find information about how to do it here.

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