Local recycling company starts plastics pilot program

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VISITORS TO the 2016 Flathead Earth Day Celebration paint a recycling bin provided by Valley Recycling. The bin is still in use — collecting recyclable materials at the Flatehad County Fairgrounds. (Photo courtesy of Citizens for a Better Flathead)

Valley Recycling recently launched a plastics pilot program, making it the second resource in Flathead County to offer various recycling services — a rarity after most locations stopped accepting some recyclables in November following China’s refusal to import American plastics.

According to Mike Smith, operator at Valley Recycling, the company is accepting No. 1 plastics, such as soda or water bottles, and No. 2 milk jugs which are considered translucent containers only. He said there is currently no limit on the amount of those materials Valley Recycling can take.

“We will take whatever you have as long as it is the right material and it is sorted and cleaned,” Smith said.

From Flathead County, the materials will be shipped to a buyer in Seattle known as Clean Scapes. According to Smith, the company sorts the material and redistributes it to other bottlers.

Smith said Valley Recycling is keeping their eye out for other options. However, he said most companies accepting plastics are located in major metropolitan areas not necessarily in the Pacific Northwest.

“In this part of the country, there are very limited options for buyers,” Smith said. “Clean Scapes are our only option right now.”

According to Smith, the pilot program will run for the next three to six months. After that time, the Valley Recycling team will evaluate the success of the program, looking primarily at whether continuing the services will be a financially sound endeavor.

“The last time we shipped plastics we had to ship it at a loss,” Smith said. “If that’s going to continue, we will probably have to shut it down.”

Flathead County has seen its fair share of recycling options shutter in recent years — an occurrence that has left valley residents frustrated.

Issues with cost, among other problems, prompted Flathead County to stop accepting plastics last February. At the time, Dave Prunty, Public Works Director, said the market for particular recyclables “ceases to exist or is economically not feasible.”

Prunty had also pointed to a large amount of “contaminated materials,” such as plastic grocery bags, being mixed in with the recyclable plastics. An influx in non-recyclable materials being mixed into recyclables is a large part of why China stopped importing.

Since the county froze its program, North Valley Refuse in Whitefish was left as the only location in the Flathead still accepting plastics. Materials collected by North Valley Refuse are sent to a facility that separates recyclables to non-recyclables.

Smith hopes the pilot program at Valley Recycling will be a success and can continue offering services after the program’s trial run.

“We are hoping to keep this going and accept more plastic depending on how it goes,” Smith said. “It’s something the valley needs.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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