Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials, CHaRM, now accepts high-density polyethylene plastics found in many household items. This is part of a continuing effort by CHaRM to accept one new recyclable item every year.
In the five-year history of CHaRM, newly accepted materials include electronics, clothing, books and block foam as a way to slow the steady stream of waste going into area landfills. This is the first facility in the nation to accept this type of plastic from consumers.
“Anything we can do to keep some of these bigger items out of the landfills is a step in the right direction,” said Shireen Miller, waste reduction coordinator for the City of Boulder.
According to CHaRM regulations, the newly accepted plastics can be identified by a number two on the bottom of the item. Many of the durable plastics are not transparent, are no more than an eighth of an inch thick and are often large in size. These plastics should not break or crack when bent. Many examples will have a raised seam or a casting mark where two pieces mold together.
Common examples of these plastics are laundry baskets, lawn furniture, five-gallon buckets and trash cans. Accepted plastics will have an opaque finish and should not be glossy, like a CD jewel case. Not all will qualify, unless they meet CHaRM’s criteria for high-density polyethylene.
“We are slowly trying to chip away at durable goods made out of plastic,” said Dan Matsch, program manager for CHaRM.
Matsch said it’s too early to tell what kind of impact the new program will have and that since this is the first of its kind, they are learning as they go. Matsch said the biggest problem so far is people not knowing what qualifies as a number two high-density plastic.
Plastics brought in to CHaRM must have all metal and fabric removed, as well as any other plastic pieces that are not high-density. If the plastics are not all one piece, there is a good chance it cannot be recycled through this program.
Matsch said these durable plastics are sent to a company in Texas to be ground up and used for recycled plastic railroad ties. The plastic ties are an alternative to virgin hardwood railroad ties injected with creosote. Creosote has toxic and carcinogenic characteristics that seep into the soil and water supply when placed in the ground.
Jack DeBell, director of CU Recycling, said there are no plans for a similar program on campus.
“We just don’t see too much of these materials in our waste stream,” he said.
DeBell applauds Eco-Cycle’s efforts to diminish waste in Colorado and said CU Recycling works closely with them. CU Recycling has a contract to sell all materials collected on campus to Eco-Cycle.
DeBell said as the cost of oil continues to increase, an entrepreneurial spirit is created to find new fuel alternatives and more reusable items. He said innovators such as Eco-Cycle are aggressive and take all the risks on the front lines of change.
“We are entering a very exciting time,” DeBell said. “The opportunities that exist for profitable recycling have never been greater.”