Recycled Plastics and Wilderness Preservation

Understanding that wilderness preservation is one of the key ingredients in the recipe to preserve endangered species like the whooping crane, we should all look for small, everyday ways we can help. So, in hopes that a lot of small actions from many will pay big dividends for all – including the wild things – I try to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” more and more – particularly plastics.

Recycling can be a win-win in a number of ways. In addition to diverting millions of tons of materials from the nation’s landfills each year, making new products from recycled materials saves money in the long run, and create jobs in the collection of recyclables, in materials recovery facilities, and in the reprocessing of the old materials into usable new stock for industry. In the case of plastics, for instance, various product life-cycle assessments have shown that new products from recycled plastic yield real savings of energy, water, and other natural resources when compared to the cost of making the same product from virgin plastic.

Last week I took a grocery bag full of used polypropylene containers to Whole Foods market in Milwaukee for recycling. Polypropylene? That’s the plastic designated #5 , or “PP” on the bottom of countless little plastic food containers everyone has in their refrigerator.

Ingredients for a Smoothie-Party, kept fresh in food storage containers made of 100 percent recycled plastic. (Photo courtesy of Preserve Products)

Ingredients for a Smoothie-Party, kept fresh in food storage containers made of 100 percent recycled plastic. (Photo courtesy of Preserve Products)

And why take them to Whole Foods? Most municipal curbside collections do not, as of now, recycle #5.  Although that may be changing, in most communities, if you throw #5 plastic in with your #1’s and #2’s – the plastics that are universally recycled – there’s a good chance the #5’s will be land filled with the trash. But what hooked me on saving #5’s and taking them to Whole Foods whenever I have a reason to be in Milwaukee, is that the organic food retailer is collecting them for Preserve Products of Waltham, MA – a company that will recycle them into new consumer products.

Preserve Products (which is where the link above, “life-cycle assessments,” leads)  has been making things out of 100% recycled #5 plastic since 1996. They started humbly with a toothbrush handle – and have expanded to disposable razors, and a variety of kitchen tools, and tabletop collections. From the beginning, they promised to reclaim your Preserve Products and recycle them again into new products of 100% recycled plastic, made here, in the United States. In 2008 they enlarged on that promise by partnering with 250 Whole Foods Markets across the country, to collect all the #5 plastic – not just their own products – that you can give them. They call this their Gimme 5 program, and you’ll find a Gimme 5 collection bin in most Whole Food stores.

I’ve admired this program since I first learned of it a few years ago, but it’s been a while since I checked into Preserve’s  informative website to see what new products are offered, and check on how much plastic they’ve been able to recycle. I found an answer at the Preserve webpage describing their partnership with Whole Foods: “250 tons of yogurt cups, butter, and cottage cheese containers and other #5 plastic packages . .” I received additional information from a company spokeswoman when I dialed the customer service number. She assured me that the Gimme 5 partnership has been all theyd hoped for and then some. “We get more materials than we can use,” she said, “and we make sure the surplus goes to other companies offering USA-made consumer products; we remain committed to making sure the plastic is recycled and used by companies making things here in this country.”

What other consumer products are being made with recycled polypropylene, I wondered. A quick internet search revealed these interesting examples (scroll down to see all 20), offered by a company calling itself JAWS, International. The acronym stands for Just Add Water System. The company sells small plastic cartridges filled with a concentrate of household cleaner chemicals, to which the consumer adds their own water. The JAWS story includes the suggestion that you recycle their cartridges, though they are not in the business of collecting it themselves.