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Wisconsin starts new push for plastics recycling

By: Jim Johnson

February 19, 2014

Farms, commercial establishments and public events are all the focus of a new push to increase plastic recycling in Wisconsin.

Recommendations from the Wisconsin Council on Recycling regarding how to boost the recycling rate come as the state tries to divert more of an estimated $64 million worth of plastics thrown away in that state each and every year.

The council is a citizens group that advises the governor, legislature and state agencies on solid waste reduction, recovery and recycling policy.

And, last year, the group started working with the state Department of Natural Resources to identify ways to divert those millions of dollars’ worth of plastics from landfill disposal and toward raw material use.

“The approach has been to target actions that can be successfully implemented now, within existing budgets and policies, and that are supported by the private and public sectors,” said Rick Meyers, chairman of the recycling council, in a statement.

Here’s the council’s advice, starting with the need to work more closely with commercial establishments:

“Commercial establishments generate a large quantity of high-value film and rigid containers in their ‘back-of-store’ operations but are unaware of the recycled value of these products and how to recycle these through an efficient cost-neutral process,” the council reports.

So the group suggests an assessment of the amount, type and distribution of rigid containers generated, landfilled and recycled by commercial businesses.

The council also is calling for improved bale quality to create a higher value stream of recycled plastics for manufacturers and processors. This can be accomplished through training, outreach and work with the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers trade group, the council said.

The group also seeks to explore the potential to create a Wisconsin Grocer Rigid Plastics project, based on APR’s Grocer Initiative that strives to divert plastics generated by grocery stores.

Furthermore, the council recommends proving technical assistance on cost-effective processes to collect commercially generated plastic film. This push to collect that film also could include tips sheets and demonstration projects.

And, finally, the group recommends the exchange of information among plastic scrap generators and markets through an online directory to help boost recycling at commercial locations.

Another target of the council is the recovery of plastic bottles at public events.

“Recycling opportunities are limited at many public places, such as parks, special and sporting events, malls and institutions. A large component of this waste stream is single use plastic bottles in high demand by manufacturers and processors. Public events are an efficient and effective venue to reinforce Wisconsin’s message to ‘recycle everywhere and all the time,’” the council reports.

Recommendations include working with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to provide recycling at “highly visible high school sporting events.”

The group also calls for “Increased access to recycling bins by establishing a distribution network for recycling barrels that can be provided from beverage bottlers through the Wisconsin Beverage Association.”

When it comes to agricultural film, the group identified the problem this way:

“Wisconsin farmers generate a large amount of plastic waste. Recycling collection options are limited and many farmers burn instead of landfilling plastic film, releasing toxic air emissions.

Past initiatives to develop a convenient collection process have been problematic, but recent events are encouraging,” the group states.

The council recommends reconvening an agricultural plastic film working group at regular intervals to plan activities. Anther recommendation involves creation of a recycling manual to help plan and implement successful agricultural film collection events.

An agricultural film webinar as well as on-site baler demonstrations already have been held.

Work also has begun on some diversion ideas, including a pilot project to increase plastic film recycling, including bags and product wrap, from customers, businesses, distributors and warehouses.

That pilot project, the council said, began in the Milwaukee area but now will expand throughout the state.

Current council members represent industry, business, non-profit organizations and local units of government, the group said.