July 30, 2019
From where I sit at the SC Department of Commerce Recycling Market Development program, I help promote the message that recyclers may be familiar with, but the public is not, i.e. “Recycling doesn’t just help the environment, it helps the economy!” In my capacity, I serve as volunteer staff to the Carolinas Plastics Recycling Council (CPRC), a public/private initiative whose goal is to increase plastics recycling in North and South Carolina. The issue is demand for recycled bottles exceeds the supply here in the Southeast. Recycled bottle material collected for recycling in our states is only enough bottle supply for the recyclers to run their manufacturing processes for 2 days. SC is a major player in the recycled PET fiber industry with processing and end-use manufacturers such as PolyQuest, US Fibers, Sun Fiber, Palmetto Synthetics, E-Z Products, Southeast Grinding and Samuel Strapping. North Carolina based companies, to name a few, are those like Unifi, ClearPath, Envision and POLYWOOD. Overall, there are 21 Carolina-based plastic bottle reclaimers who employ 3,500 people.
When the CPRC steering committee initially sat down in 2013 with stakeholders like plastic recycling industry representatives, local governments, and Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), we quickly realized that we needed to do more outreach and awareness building to increase plastic bottle recycling. Our collective objective was to communicate the economic impact of recycling, so we came up with the premise of when "You recycle, I work." Transitioning that premise into a call to action, our graphic designer came up with the Your Bottle Means Jobs (YBMJ) logo that we have been using for the past 6 years. The Your Bottle Means Jobs campaign makes the linkage between the act of recycling and the jobs created. Indeed, the call to action for the campaign is “If each household in the Carolinas increased its plastic bottle recycling by just two more bottles a week, we could create 300 local jobs across the recycling chain.” When you add those 2 bottles a week per household back up, it totals the 6 billion bottles that are landfilled annually in the Carolinas that could be supplying local manufacturers.
As we developed and fundraised for the campaign with volunteer staff from 2014-16, we were able to get private sector contributions to help build our www.yourbottlemeansjobs.com website, create billboards, radio ads, build a toolkit for recycling coordinators, and hire an intern to help with social media and represent the campaign at events.
- One-on-one education is still the best way to change recycling behavior. The “a-ha” moments occur with people when you ask them if they know what happens to their bottle after it goes in the recycling bin. Most people don’t.
- We use our kit to show them the steps from start to finish, and it’s invaluable for them to see the bottle, flake, resin, fiber and end-use products.
- We also show the videos we produced with NAPCOR and APR what happens to PET and HDPE bottles after they go into the recycling bin in the Carolinas. The video is like a “How It’s Made” for recycling and people are naturally curious, so they tune in and get the messaging.
- Then, attendees take a pledge to recycle 2 more bottles at home, at work, at school and on-the-go, changing them from “sometimes” recyclers to at least more frequent and better recyclers and some to “always” recyclers.
After getting our feet wet with events, the CPRC conducted a multi-media billboard, radio ad and social media Your Bottle Means Jobs campaign in the Raleigh Durham area and saw a 2% increase in bottles sold by Triangle MRFs during the March-May 2017 period! That’s the equivalent of over 520,000 PET and HDPE bottles that got recycled into new products like t-shirts, textiles, plastic pipe and other goods produced in the Carolinas.
Another great opportunity is to use the YBMJ video to explain recycling’s value to new staff at the New Employee Orientation. This happens at Orange County, NC every month for their new employees who may be employed at the county in anything from animal services to the visitor’s bureau. My colleague Blair Pollock says that after 6 hours of orientation and paperwork, he plays the YBMJ video and staff’s eyes light up. People engage in a different way regarding the recycling portion when they see what happens beyond the bin. His former colleague Muriel Williman (now with City of Durham) said when she was at Orange County, “When people watch the video, seeing the facilities, the people, the process, and the end products, they REALLY get it. There are audible gasps when they discover that recycled products are made here locally with materials they recycle in Orange County. The video de-mystifies recycling and makes true believers out of our audience.”
Our MRF’s and local government recycling coordinators use the messaging all year for their outreach. In fact, Jane Hiller, Education Specialist at Sonoco Recycling has been using the YBMJ campaign at schools and in her outreach at the Columbia MRF. Sonoco operates several large Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) with presence in the Carolinas and is one of the supporters of the Your Bottle Means Jobs campaign. Patrick McDonald, Plant Manager at Sonoco Recycling recently said, “We are selling all the bales of plastic bottles we can make.” This sends a strong signal to local governments to continue their collection processes while keeping up quality by reducing contamination and not including plastics that cannot be marketed.
The Carolinas are an industrial powerhouse when it comes to plastics recycling assets and have seen capital investment exceeding $228 million in the two states over the past 5 years. Plastics recyclers convert bottles and other plastics to new products like carpeting, clothes and other textiles, plastic pipe, plastic lumber and more bottles. These 3,500 jobs in recycling lead to many more jobs in the value chain due to the recycling’s economic multiplier effect.
Let’s all be part of the movement to meet the demand for recycled material right here at home and provide that bottle supply by recycling RIGHT and recycling MORE!
Your. Bottle. Means. Jobs.
NERC welcomes guest blog submissions. To inquire about submitting articles contact Lynn Rubinstein.
Disclaimer: Guest blogs represent the opinion of the writers and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.