Plastic containers like those used to hold fruit and vegetables are now recyclable in Montgomery County.
“For some time now, the biggest question that my staff and I are asked from residents is ‘When can we do the clamshells?’” said Eileen Kao, chief of the Waste Reduction and Recycling section of the Division of Solid Waste Services.
The county received a $63,000 grant in March from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association to create a model program for recycling the containers.
Formed by heating extremely thin sheets of polyethylene terephthalate, known as PET or PETE and marked by a No. 1, the thermoform segment of the PET 1 plastics market has not officially been accepted by Montgomery County until now.
PET bottles, which include soda and water bottles, have been recycled by the county for a very long time, Kao said. Any PET thermoforms that residents had been unknowingly putting into their recycling bins, the county was baling to take to market, she said.
Of plastics, PET is the most recycled in the world and can be recycled multiple times, according to NAPCOR.
NAPCOR determined that the total number of pounds of PET bottles and jars available in the United States for recycling in 2010 was 5.350 billion.
According to its 2010 report, that number reflects the total amount of PET bottle resin used by U.S. bottle manufacturers from U.S., foreign and recycled sources, less scrap generated and not re-used, exported bottles and pre-forms, and bottles less than eight ounces in size.
The amount of post-consumer PET bottles collected for recycling and sold in the United States in 2010 was 1,557.2 million pounds.
While PET bottles have been widely recycled, the first recycled in 1977, questions of viscosity and configuration have historically kept PET thermoforms out of most recycling streams, said Kate Eagles, Communications Director for NAPCOR.
NAPCOR has been actively working to overcome the obstacles preventing PET thermoforms from being recycled on a wide scale, she said.
As part of that effort, Montgomery County was one of three jurisdictions nationally selected out of 13 proposals for a grant to create a model program for collecting and recycling the thermoform plastics.
The county has identified markets for the thermoformed plastics that can be turned into clean flakes that can then be turned into items like a tablecloth, Kao said.
PET thermoform can be seen throughout grocery stores holding items like strawberries and tomatoes, stacked up for take-out salads, protecting cakes and cookies, and filled with potato salad or hummus.
In the future, it is going to be more prevalent as the packaging industry turns more to its use, Kao said.
“We have identified markets for these, companies that are using the PET thermoforms are using them and manufacturing items from the recycled PET ingredients,” she said. “That is why we are now able to expand to add these things.”
Residents can soon expect a postcard in the mail that will identify the new plastics being accepted by the county and reiterate the other items the county recycles, Kao said.
Starting in July and running through September, the county will undertake a $155,000, multi-media outreach and education campaign about the expanded recycling program, including print and transit advertising and information on the county’s cable television channel and on the radio, she said.