National Harbor, Md. — The idea of specialized facilities that pluck out hard-to-recycle plastics from curbside waste streams and aggregate them into something marketable has been a vision in packaging recycling going back more than a decade.
But the economics of the idea have never matched the promise, and the recent history of plastics recycling is littered with failures of secondary sortation facilities, as they're called.
Now, however, some say there are changes underway that could make secondary sort facilities more viable. They point to investments from waste collection giant Republic Services Inc. and, in the next few years, more money flowing into recycling infrastructure from extended producer responsibility programs.
That was the sense of a panel at the recent Plastics Recycling Conference, held March 6-8 at National Harbor, just outside Washington.
Republic, for example, is opening its first secondary sortation plant, or what it calls a polymer center, this year in Las Vegas to aggregate and process hard-to-recycle waste plastic. It said the facility will produce more than 100 million pounds of recycled resin a year.
In February, Republic announced plans for a second facility, in the Midwest, to open next year. An executive at the event said it wants to have two more, in the Northeast and the Gulf Coast, open in 2025 and 2026, respectively.