A couple of Michigan-based recycling companies are doing their part to help make sure water bottles being used in Flint are getting recycled.
Schupan Recycling, which is the largest PET bottle recycler in Michigan, is working with Petoskey Plastics Inc., which is donating recycled content-plastic bags to help collect some of those empty bottles.
Petoskey Plastics already has donated some 70,000 clear recycling bags to help Schupan Recycling recover used bottles.
“A community's in trouble, and we're a big recycler. We like to support the cause,” said Matt Keiswetter, sales manager for Petoskey Plastics' packaging division.
Schupan Recycling has been on the ground in Flint, setting up five drop-off locations where residents can take their empty plastic bottles, according to Thomas Emmerich, president of the recycling division of Schupan & Sons Inc. of East Lansing.
Schupan handles PET bottles collected through Michigan's bottle bill. And while water bottles are exempted from a deposit, the company still handles them through special events collections.
“PET bottles are PET bottles,” he said. “A water bottle or a soft drink bottle is our core business.”
Once the linear low density polyethylene bags are filled and transported to a Schupan recycling facility, the empty bags are recaptured and baled for return to Petoskey Plastics so that they can be recycled into new bags.
Each bag sent to Flint for water bottle collection contains 70 percent post-consumer recycled content and can hold an estimated 200 empties, Keiswetter said.
Emmerich has been involved in trying to organize an on-the-ground response to address all of the empty water bottles being generated by Flint residents in the wake of that city's tap water crisis.
A switch from using municipal water supplied by Detroit to water from the Flint River, in an effort to save money for the financially struggling city, started corroding old pipes and caused lead to leach into the city's water supply.
As attention to the issue grew, residents started turning to bottled water en masse for their daily needs.
“We are the largest beverage container recycling company in the state of Michigan, and we feel we have a responsibility to step up and do what we can,” Emmerich said.
Aside from locations established by Schupan, other companies like Young Environmental Cleanup Inc. and Metro Sanitation also created such sites, Emmerich said. Curbside recycling is handled by Republic Services Inc.
Flint, in recent years, got out of the waste collection services and hired Republic Services to handle those duties. At the time when the city privatized that business, Flint said it would be able to save $1 million per year.
As part of the transition, Republic Services touted additional services residents would receive, including curbside recycling, which the city did not have at the time.
The nation's second largest trash hauler did not respond for comment, but local reports indicate that curbside recycling has increased in recent months since the city has been overrun with water bottles.
“It's an enormous challenge. But one we're going to keep fighting for,” Emmerich said.