Here in my home of Ann Arbor, Mich., community leaders have been working to relaunch a city-owned materials recycling facility. As a college town, Ann Arbor has always been pretty strong in recycling, but there were problems with a MRF run by a private company, prompting the city to take over its own facility again.
That's meant a lot of discussions by community leaders on what needed to be done to create a 21st century MRF. Recently there have been announcements from groups like the American Beverage Association, Closed Loop Partners and the state of Michigan for grants of more than $2 million toward the project. The money is earmarked not only at a state-of-the-art MRF, but also recycling collection systems in neighboring communities, parks and schools.
"Our investment in Ann Arbor will help restore the region's critical recycling infrastructure, create jobs and showcase effective strategies to build a more circular economy," said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the beverage association.
Why all that investment in a community that already emphasizes recycling? Look at the latest PET recycling numbers released by the National Association of PET Container Resources. As Steve Toloken writes, U.S. PET recycling rates dropped slightly last year and have hovered near 30 percent for years.
At the same time, consumer brands have pledged to increase their use of recycled PET while California is at the forefront of new government mandates to drive the use of recycled PET. Those goals simply cannot be met with a recycling rate at 30 percent.
For the plastics industry, if it can't boost rates through voluntary programs for the easiest materials to recycle, how can it expect to battle back against environmentalists who would call for bans instead?
So this one project may be just aimed at one community, but it may have a far wider impact.