A couple of years ago I emailed the College’s Sustainability Coordinator, Jim Merkel, and asked him about plastic recycling. I’d heard conflicting rules about what could go into the recycling bins, but I figured that he would know what the latest rules were for plastic recycling. When Jim told me that Dartmouth recycles all plastics from #1 – #7, I couldn’t believe him. I emailed him back to confirm what he’d said, and he reiterated the fact that I could recycle plastics from #1 (PETE) to #7 (OTHER) in a single bin. We could even comingle the plastics with aluminum cans.
Most curbside recycling programs only take #1 and #2 (HDPE) plastic bottles and jugs. For Dartmouth to provide recycling of not only different container shapes, such as berry clamshells and tubs, but also of plastics #3 – #7 is really amazing. Although I wanted to believe that Dartmouth had found a recycler to take these materials, I still had my doubts. Dartmouth has had issues in the past with recycling being collected and then just trashed, so I always remained a little wary about the whole process.
This past week I was able to communicate with the people that handle all of Dartmouth’s plastic recycling and I must say that I now feel much more confident about the program and much more comfortable telling people to go ahead and recycle as much plastic as possible. So here it is:
If you work/live at Dartmouth (not DHMC, see below), you can and should put plastic items marked with a #1 – #7 in the recycling bin.
Through Gary Hill (FO&M) I was able to get contact information for Dan St. Pierre, Cold Drink Sales Manager for the Lakes Region Coca-Cola. I emailed Dan some questions about the plastic recycling program, and while he didn’t know the answers to my questions, he forwarded my email to Ray Dube, Redemption Recycling Manager, Coca-Cola of Northern New England. As in many endeavors, the key to getting things done is persistence!
Here are my questions and Ray’s answers:
Do you separate the plastics as a part of the recycling process, or do you just use them all mixed together? (I assume that you separate-out the aluminum cans!
When the full trailer arrives at the processing facility everything is emptied onto a conveyor for sorting. The aluminum is separated as well as the plastics 1 – 7. For the plastics to be reused they have to sorted by number.
Where are the recyclables taken for recycling? Do you have a plant in New Hampshire, or do the plastics go elsewhere? Gary mentioned that some of the plastic recycling may take place overseas.
The processing facility we currently use is in Massachusetts. They are the same facilities used to sort curbside recycling.
May we recycle products that aren’t marked with a #1-7 plastic recycling sign? Sometimes we’ll get containers that are obviously polystyrene, for example, but I can’t find a #6 label on them anywhere. I’d like to be able to recycle these containers as well.
It’s better if you didn’t. Some companies use specialty blends that end up being a contaminate to the recycled plastics. A good example of this is the Environmental plastic bottles you can find some companies using that are made from corn oil. Recyclers don’t like them because they contaminate the #1 PETE.
How clean do items going into plastic recycling need to be?
Sometimes people will have a small amount of food waste left in a cup or clamshell. Do these need to be carefully rinsed off, or can they have a little food residue on them?
Cleaner is always better for reasons like Pest/Rodent control. But they don’t have to be perfect.
Once the plastics are recycled, what products are made out of them?
Gary suggested that they might be used in composite materials for outside furniture, like the “engineered wood” products used in park benches.
Engineered wood is a big one but also carpet, cloths, new containers – there’s literally hundreds of items. We sell millions of pounds of recycled material every year and I’m constantly getting calls from companies that want to buy our material.
What a great set of answers. I feel much more informed about the plastic recycling process here at Dartmouth!
As you might know, Dartmouth and DHMC are both currently using compostable corn-plastic cups in certain areas. Ray’s comment about corn plastic contaminating what I like to call “dinosaur plastic” recycling streams is very insightful and underscores what I’ve been asking for since first I saw the products: clear labeling of compostable items.
People can’t tell the difference between compostable cups and non-compostable cups, so they’ll probably just throw them in the trash or perhaps in the plastic recycling bin at Dartmouth as the corn cups are marked with a #7 on the bottom. What we need is a clear “This-Is-Compost” sign or mark that can be emblazoned on the bottom and/or sides of compostable items. Until the general public is accustomed to sorting plastic cups into recyclable vs. compostable, the marks need to be very prominent.
As Ray said, plastics without numbers on them might be a blend and might contaminate the waste stream. We can still recycle a whole lot of items, but that does mean that there are some unlabeled items that we won’t be able to recycle. My current thought there is to create a new bin and place into it plastic items that are not labeled with a number. Then we can take all of those materials, call up the manufacturers, and try to get them to label their items. Will we get results? Well, I guess that depends upon how persuasive I can be to the companies and how persistent I am in talking to people, eh?
What about recycling plastics at DHMC? I don’t have complete information yet, but I believe that DHMC might be using a different recycler that only accepts #1 and #2 plastic bottles/jugs. If you work only at DHMC then you’re kind of stuck for now. However, if you split your time between the College campus and DHMC, you might consider bringing your #5 yogurt cups and #6 to-go containers back to the College recycling bins. Remember to give food containers a quick rinse before putting them in the bin!
That’s about it. Keep on recycling!