Recycling is not as common practice as some would like in Billings.
"I think for some people, they see recycling as added work,” says Rudi Marten, owner and CEO of Clark Marten Photography.
Marten recycles all types of materials at his downtown Billings business, including cardboard, cans and plastic bottles. He has personally recycled for many years, and it's a topic he's passionate about.
“As we continue on in life, whatever we can do to help in any way and to reuse what we can or to keep things out of our landfill I think is a responsibility we should all have,” says Marten.
Currently, plastic recyclable materials can go to places that will end up using them once, most often to make carpets or construction materials.
“Unfortunately, the capture rates of plastic packaging are too low in the US," says Vice President of Recycling and Sustainability at Republic Services Pete Keller. "The most common plastic packaging, PET, water bottle, and HEP milk jug are only captured about 30% of the time, and a lot of the time that material that is captured gets downcycled into a market that makes it very difficult to capture it again.”
But now, a new $70 million polymer center has opened in Las Vegas, a first-of-its-kind facility that can recycle plastic materials six to seven times.
“What polymer center will do is it will produce high-grade outputs, high-yielding outputs, enable greater circularity of material. We like to think of it as a direct investment in the circular economy, and ultimately, we want to keep these materials in circulation longer. So, think a plastic water bottle being converted back into another water bottle, or a detergent jug, milk jug, shampoo bottle getting back into that marketplace,” says Keller.
The center takes already collected and recycled materials and breaks them down to be reused in their original form. They mainly take polyethylene terephthalate, PET, which is commonly used in water bottles. The PET is shredded and washed down to then be turned into sustainable packaging.
Even though the center is a thousand miles away in Las Vegas, Republic Services says all its facilities in surrounding states, including Montana, will send their plastic to the center possibly starting sometime next year.
While the move could take a while, it's one that Marten says is a good first step to help promote recycling.
“I think the more you can educate the public, the better and more receptive it will be. And the more people know that it’s available the more they’ll recycle. So if we’re only starting with plastic, let’s start there,” says Marten.