Plastic Bottles Can Mean Jobs For North Carolinians
Recycling center needs more bottlesBy Scott Gates
Used plastic bottles are big business in North Carolina. Several recycling centers across the state are massive operations, including one turning old bottles into fabric fibers off Highway 421 in Yadkin County.
The Repreve Recycling Center in Yadkinville turns waste products including PET plastic — what your water or soda bottle is made of—into a fiber used in Unifi, Inc.’s Repreve fabric. Companies including Ford and Patagonia use that fabric for everything from clothing (it takes five plastic bottles to make a T-shirt) to car seat covers (42 plastic bottles).
The Yadkinville facility completed an expansion project last July and has recycled an estimated 4 billion plastic bottles to date. All those bottles mean more raw material for trendy clothing and upholstery, but more importantly they mean steady jobs for 49 local residents.
“The recycling center expansion has added new jobs, helping to further enhance the quality of life we all enjoy in the region and underscoring the confidence investors have in our local workforce,” says Adam Martin, marketing & economic development coordinator at Surry-Yadkin EMC.
Wanted: Your used plastic bottles
Unifi is one of more than 200 companies involved in collecting, processing and manufacturing recycled plastics in North and South Carolina. Although business is booming, a locally sourced supply of bottles is not.
“Amazingly, there are too few plastic bottles being recycled in the Carolinas to support the manufacturers and businesses that have come to rely on them,” says Yasmeen Brock, recycling campaign officer for the Your Bottle Means Jobs Campaign, an initiative of the Carolinas Plastics Recycling Council.
Only 25 percent of the recycled plastic bottles needed to meet production goals comes from the Carolinas, according to the Council — the rest are imported from other states or as far away as Canada and Mexico. And yet, an estimated three billion plastic bottles are thrown away each year in the Carolinas, creating a huge opportunity to get more plastic in the recycling bin.
“We want to bring those bottles back into the cycle so recyclers don’t have to go out of state for raw materials,” Brock says.
As a result, the Council initiated the recycling awareness campaign to encourage Carolinians to recycle two more plastic bottles a week to support local jobs. North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives is a sponsor.
Why two bottles? By the Council’s estimates, if each household in the Carolinas recycles two more plastic bottles per week, the states would save $10 million in materials costs and avoided landfill costs each year, while creating an estimated 300 new jobs.
The uptick in recycling would also support the more than 1,700 Carolinians directly employed converting bottles and other plastics to new products, and ensure that facilities like the Repreve Recycling Center continue to grow.