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Q&A with Pete Keller: What You Should Know about Plastics Recycling

On this America Recycles Day, we had the chance to catch up with Pete Keller, Vice President, Recycling and Sustainability. He answered some questions about our new Polymer Centers, how they differ from our recycling centers, and what he wishes people knew about plastics recycling!

Q: Can you tell us why Republic Services is developing Polymer Centers?

A:  There are a number of reasons we are developing these Polymer Centers, starting with minimum content legislation from various states. We think over time we will see more states adopt a mandate that requires a certain percentage of recycled content in packaging. Additionally, most major brands have voluntary sustainability commitments relative to recycled content in packaging.  Due to these factors, we have seen lots of interest from packaging manufacturers for recycled content.

Q: How do the Polymer Centers differ from Republic’s 74 recycling centers?

A: Our Polymer Centers are a secondary sortation model – so they are highly automated and capable of separating various grades of resin. For example, there are food and non-food grade resins.  There are also various colors of resin, and these centers will be able to create color sorted bales (i.e., white bales, orange bales, etc.), which will be a higher value product for specific customers.

Q: In recent news, Blue Polymers is a new joint venture that Republic is launching with Ravago.  Can you explain a little bit about how Blue Polymers and our Polymer Centers are linked?

A: Our Polymer Centers are going to produce hot-washed PET flake (think: the material water bottles are made of), which Republic will market to different manufacturers.  Everything else that the Polymer Centers produce, which could be milk jugs, detergent bottles, yogurt cups, etc. will be sent to Blue Polymers. Blue Polymers will wash, grind, extrude, purify, and pelletize this material. Ravago, our partner, has the expertise of compounding and blending high quality resins, which they will receive from our Polymer Centers to eventually distribute. It’s a really good combination of our expertise and theirs.

Q: Finally, what do you wish everyone knew about plastics recycling?

A: I have two answers for this one. My first is, I wish customers knew what was actually recyclable. It’s easy to fall into a trap of trying to recycle things that can’t be recycled and that can be harmful, not only to our process, but to the environment.  My second answer is that I wish people knew that plastic IS recyclable, and it gets recycled. There’s a lot of misinformation out there claiming recycling doesn’t work or make a difference, and that could not be further from the truth.

A special thanks to Pete for sitting down with us to answer these questions. Be sure to check out the other America Recycles Day posts here on Blue Nation Online!