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The following is an article from the Denver Post.
Plastics unpredictable partner in the life of an online recycler.
Recycling can be complicated
Dec. 29, 1998 - Recycling - the business of turning one man's trash into another man's treasure - may sound simple in theory, but it can get complicated in practice: Children's blocks made from recycled bottles have ended up smelling like fabric softener. Recycled paper picture frames have warped. Highways made from ground-up tires have caught fire.
Such kinks in the reprocessing pipeline are everyday challenges for Denver entrepreneur Mary Jarrett, who has shepherded scores of products to market over the past several years as operator of an online business called Amazing Recycled Products (www.amazingrecycled.com).
In general, plastics pose the biggest problems for the eco-friendly industry, says Jarrett.
"Metals, glass and paper are all easy to re-use,'' she notes. "But everything in plastics is resin-specific. Just because one thing has the same recycling code number as another doesn't mean it can be used the same way. You can't make recycling bins out of refrigerator trays.''
The latest challenge to recyclers appears to be posed by the plastic beer bottles now being testmarketed in six cities by Miller Brewing. Not only are the bottles made with a barrier layer of nylon-based polymer, which may make the containers hard to recycle, but they come with aluminum caps and metallicized labels - both of which pose operational problems for reclaimers. The use of plastics in recycling also is complicated, she says, by U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines which call for virgin plastics to be used in most food and pharmaceutical containers because recycled materials may be contaminated by residues from the original containers.
"You can make milk bottles into bike bottles or "sipper' bottles, which are sold not containing food,'' says Jarrett. "But this is not true everywhere in the world, which is why so many of our used bottles are shipped overseas and why we make these plastic non-food items instead of new milk bottles.''
Jarrett, who got into recycling in 1990 as a distributor of plastic lumber, now offers more than 350 items ranging from pens and piggy banks to paving tiles and dumpsters.
"We're not just here to sell products. We're here to solve environmental problems,'' she says.
"Every year we pick a material that normally goes to waste and try to design a new product made from it. We usually come up with something small first, like a coaster, and then go on to make something bigger.''
Last year, she tackled organic waste (wheat chaf), which was tested for use in making biodegradable utensils. The year before, the target was plastic refrigerator trays, which were recycled into promotional medallions. Before that it was waterbed liners, which were made into protoptypes for computer mouse pads.
Currently, Jarrett is working to expand the market for anti-erosion mats made from strips of sliced-up truck tires - products now being used in bathhouses at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and were considered for use on mule trails at Grand Canyon.
"It's a wonderful product for trail stabilization because it can be laid underground and not be seen,'' she asserts.
Many of Jarrett's customers are federal, state or county agencies, which are often bound by government mandates to buy recycled when possible. Among other things, she has sold fenceposts to Aurora, spill containment vessels to Summit County and parking-lot curbs to National Jewish Medical Center in Denver - all made from recycled plastic.
But increasingly, her product lines contain consumer-oriented goods like shoes, composters or garden pots.
Most products are made by U.S. artisans, like a West Virgina couple who produce hand-blown glass items.''
"When you're involved in recycling, you have to work with a number of different brokers, particularly in plastic and paper, and the big boys in this are all offshore, because the majority of products being manufactured today are coming from the Pacific Rim,'' she says.
Her experience with imported items has been mixed. On one hand, she ordered several thousand hand-made paper easels from India for use as certificate holders in an Earth Day promotion, but had to discard many of them because they had warped by the time they arrived.
On the other, she has had good success with pens made from recycled cardboard in Germany, which requires manufacturers of all goods to do something useful with their waste products. (Australia goes even further, offering both subsidies to the makers of recycled products and sales-tax exemptions to buyers.)
While incentives like these are rare in this country, many U.S. corporations are already recycling their own byproducts for efficiency's sake - through strategies such as closed-loop systems in which used aluminum beer cans are reprocessed into new cans.
"To be real honest,'' she says, "most recycled products today are competitive at the manufacturing level. But in the marketplace, they may sell for a higher price than goods made from virgin materials because the retailers think the market will bear it.''
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