A recent article in the Wall Street Journal that ran under the headline “Bottle Recycling Plan is Left at the Curb” described how $60 million had been invested in this 120,000-square-foot Coca-Cola facility in Spartanburg, S.C., that is now sitting mostly idle. It was, I thought, a perfect illustration of the need for new approaches to old problems. If what caused the disuse of this once-vaunted plant, as the article indicated, was America’s low recycling rates combined with the low quality of curbside plastic due to contamination and the high demand for the material from China, then the old model of “build it and they will come” clearly no longer works.
So what would a new model look like if we had the same $60 million to spend? How about investing that money in a community-wide campaign that rewarded consumers for recycling specific products? What if we used it to provide community groups with incentives to recycle specific products that could then be reused by companies like Coca-Cola. I firmly believe we can do things of this nature, and that the time is right. And guess what? If we were to initiate local programs for collecting these materials in a way that keeps them clean and rewards people for participating, such efforts could be undertaken on a totally private and commercial basis. No need for legislation or “bottle bills” — just old fashion enterprise creating new jobs and sources of additional income in the community.
Were such an approach to be taken, it would also make China unable to compete with the demand we would have right here at home for high-quality, uncontaminated recycled materials. All it would take would be some startup money — probably no more than half of the $60 million it took to build the Coke recycling plant. And then we’ll be well on our way to creating at least one program that not only helps create more jobs, but helps curtail both our dependence on oil and a major source of ocean and environmental pollution.