The Last Recycling Frontier


Recycling efforts in the U.S., and worldwide for that matter, are increasing year after year; however, plastics still remain a question mark when it comes to recycling.

According to 2010 statistics provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans recycled or composted about 85 million tons of waste, or about 34-percent of all municipal solid waste. However, the recycling rate of plastics is “negligible” at best.

Mike Biddle -- founder of MBA Polymers located in Richmond, CA -- puts a more exact figure on the plastics recycling debacle. He states that approximately 550 billion pounds of plastics worldwide are used annually, and just 10-percent of this plastic is recycled. The rest enters landfills and can take hundreds of years to decompose.

If you take a look at the recycling rates of metal, at approximately 90-percent, you get a clearer picture of just how poor the plastics recycling rates are. MBA Polymers is one of the first companies to make a big impact in the plastics recycling movement.

Biddle successfully found a way to extract and sort plastics straight from landfills – a process he calls “above-ground mining” – and recycle these scraps into small plastic pellets used to make new plastic components, such as electronics and car parts.

Biddle spoke last fall at TED (see video below) about the difficulties associated with recycling plastic but how important it is to do so. Its companies like MBA Polymers that have helped pave the way for more eco-friendly ways to produce plastic. For example, most types of plastic bags found at grocery stores are recyclable today whereas less than a decade ago they were not. The same is true for plastic bottles.

The industry is now using plastic polymers that are recyclable and easier to process. So, not only are landfills becoming increasingly efficient at sorting trash, separating recyclables, and even generating electricity from trash, but companies like MBA Polymers are helping to reduce the amount of plastic actually found at landfills.

These are all positive efforts helping to reduce our impact on the environment and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.

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