Pulverizing the plastic problem

Pulverizing the plastic problem

By Jon Bell

1211_PlasticProblemThe way it works now, about 16 million pounds of plastic soda and water bottles redeemed each year through Oregon’s beverage container deposit program are baled and sold as scrap, often to foreign companies. Millions more plastic bottles never get redeemed and are instead recycled curbside. They, too, usually end up as exported scrap.

The system is great for recycling polyethylene terephthalate plastic or PET, but it does little to help supply domestic demand for recycled plastic feedstock or to create or sustain stateside jobs.

But when a $10 million plastic bottle recycling plant comes online in St. Helens in early 2012, every plastic soda and water bottle redeemed in Oregon will be recycled here. The plant, known as ORPET, will create 25 new jobs, and all of the recycled plastic feedstock it produces will be sold only to domestic customers, who will use it to make everything from new bottles to fabric.

“Over the past 10 years, the majority of that material has been exported,” says Dennis Denton, founder of Denton Plastics and one of the partners behind ORPET. “We think it should be processed here and sold here so we can have the manufacturing here.”

The plant was financed by the private investment of Denton and Tom Leaptrott, president of Quantum Leap, a plastics company in Vancouver, Wash., along with the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, the group that administers the state’s bottle bill.

ORPET has a 10-year contract for all the redeemed plastic water and soda bottles in Oregon. The plant’s full capacity is close to 30 million pounds annually. As more Oregonians redeem their water bottles, ORPET may add up to 25 more jobs.

Mark Shuholm, president of the Molalla recycler Northwest Polymers, sees nothing but good in keeping the scrap and recycled PET in the U.S. The foreign firms that buy up U.S. scrap material squeeze domestic companies. Oregon City’s Blue Heron Paper Company closed in February in part because of foreign demand for wastepaper.

“The export market is huge,” Shuholm says. “All that PET could be sold for export and all that money could go into overseas pockets. But now it won’t.”