More than 30 million tons of plastic products and packaging are manufactured each year in the United States. Even though about half of it is single-use packaging, we recycle less than eight percent. Instead, we use it once and throw it away.
Though we can easily recycle more than 98 percent of the plastic bottles manufactured and sold in the United States, we throw away or litter seven out of eight bottles we buy. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation alone spends more than $10 million on cleaning up litter and the most voluminous portion of that litter stream is plastic.
Even in our local curbside recycling communities, we likely only recover about a quarter of our plastic bottles. That’s because less than half our households recycle regularly as required by law and a large portion of our businesses and public spaces do not recycle plastic bottles at all.
Add to this that twenty Blair municipalities don’t even require recycling and it seems likely that we average a couple bottles per person being thrown in the trash every day. With a population of 125,000 people, Blair County alone probably throws away close to a quarter million bottles a day.
Making plastic from virgin materials (instead of recycled plastic) uses much more energy. Recycling a ton of PET plastic bottles saves the equivalent of nearly seventeen barrels of oil, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources. Since there are about 70,000 bottles in a ton, that means recycling those 250,000 bottles in Blair County would save the equivalent of fifteen barrels of oil every day.
That means that if everyone in the United States recycled two more plastic bottles or bags each day, we could cut our importation of Mideast oil by nearly 40,000 barrels. Just by recycling a couple plastic bottles or bags a day, we could cut imports from the world’s most unstable region by several per cent. Imagine what we could do if we recycled everything included in our recycling?
And we’d have the added bonus of eliminating the most common source of roadside litter in America while employing tens of thousands to recycle and remanufacture the plastic into new products right here in Pennsylvania.
Amidst the disappointment of our subpar recycling performance, there is good news. More plastic recycling opportunities are now available in Blair and surrounding counties than there ever have been and future expansion seems likely.
All your plastic bottles can be recycled at the curbside in the county’s recycling municipalities. It’s part of your monthly waste and recycling service bill at both home and work. The county and three waste firms provide more than a dozen recycling drop-off depots, serving every part of the county. A special holiday recycling event at the Logan Valley Mall will also accept all kinds of Christmas packaging (including foam packaging) the week after Christmas.
Additionally, the county offers a number of plastic recycling options for less traditional materials among the many special recyclables they accept at their compost facility in the village of Buckhorn. These include polypropylene (#5) cups and pots, vinyl siding and fencing, and CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes.