August 1, 2019 / 2 minute read
Plastics are essential to our lives. They're used to make safety helmets, air bags, protective coatings and to reduce weight in vehicles to cut fuel consumption. They allow us to ship foods and beverages safely and efficiently, and they're used for water management systems that protect our environment.
However, there is a well documented issue of plastics ending up in landfills, oceans and across our environment. This situation has been compounded over the past year by a change in Chinese policy that restricts the import of recyclable materials, including many common plastics. As the ability to export this material to China has dried up for the United States, we face the challenge of how to deal with the backup that must be disposed of and recycled.
In other words, the country is now faced with the responsibility of taking care of our own plastics.
Fortunately, many kinds of plastics, including high density polyethylene, can be recycled and turned into new products such as juice bottles and yogurt tubs, detergent and shampoo bottles. HDPE can also be used in various infrastructure applications, such as stormwater pipe and even bridges. And that's where a long-term solution to our plastics problem could reside.
The Plastics Industry Association and the Plastics Pipe Institute have called for, among other things, the increased use of recycled material in infrastructure products. As a member of the Plastics Pipe Institute, Advanced Drainage Systems is actively working with members of Congress, state departments of transportation, our customers and the American Chemistry Council to promote Open Material Competition in infrastructure spending legislation. It's an opportunity that holds significant promise considering our country's massive transportation and infrastructure needs.
Some manufacturers already recognize this infrastructure potential. For example, innovators both in the United States and Europe are looking for ways to develop safe and economical bridges using recycled plastics, while Axion Structural Innovations here in Ohio is producing railroad ties from recycled HDPE.
At ADS, we began researching and using recycled HDPE in our stormwater pipe more than 20 years ago. Today, we process reusable materials at eight facilities across North America, removing short-life plastic products from the waste stream, repurposing them for water management solutions in construction and agriculture installations that protect a precious resource and improve our environment. We are now the largest consumer of recycled HDPE in the United States and one of the nation's largest recycling companies, keeping more than 400 million pounds of plastic out of landfills each year.
Manufacturers and recyclers have a key role to play in solving our plastics problem, as do consumers, waste management companies, engineers and government leaders.
We must continue working collaboratively together to expand where and how recycled plastics can be used — like in infrastructure products — so that in the long term, we can solve our plastics problem.