Recycled plastics gain new use

Recycling in Michigan is at an all-time high, but Michigan’s business and environmental leaders say the state can’t afford to rest on its laurels.

Now more than ever, companies in the Great Lakes State are desperately seeking to include recyclables in the manufacturing of new products, especially recycled plastics.

The challenge? Convincing Michiganders the materials they put into their curbside bins are actually being recycled and not dumped in a landfill.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what really happens in recycling,” said Matt Flechter, recycling market development specialist with the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

“We need people to know recycling does make a difference and that their choices matter,” Flechter said.

Brian Miller, regional sales manager for Cascade Engineering, based outside Grand Rapids, is well aware of just how big of a difference recycled items, particularly plastics, can make for companies that rely on them as raw materials to fashion into new products.

In 2022, Cascade was able to use 3 million pounds of material recovered through curbside programs. Half of that total came from curbside materials that were used in production of its EcoCart, a curbside waste and recycling cart that is made partly with bulky rigid plastic taken directly from recycling programs and partners who contribute recyclable plastics from the automotive, furniture and custom compounding industries.

“And the reason it’s only 50% is because we can’t get enough (recycled) materials,” Miller said.

“If we had enough materials, we could go to 100% curbside materials in the production of our wheels, our carts and dash mats in our automotive plants,” he added. “We wouldn’t have to go to other sources. We can keep this material in the state of Michigan and utilize it in products manufactured here in Michigan.”

“In my 25 years, I’ve definitely seen an increase in recycled materials, so much that we’re putting it in silos now,” said Ronald Hoppa Jr., Cascade Engineering plant manager. “This way uses millions of pounds of recycled material a year.”

Recycling can also make a different in individual workers’ lives. Just ask Horace Cheney, a Cascade Engineering material handler.

“It’s a good place to work for and they give everybody the opportunity to learn and move up and progress — and impact the environment too,” he said.

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