From its humble beginnings as the popular “Bags to Benches” plastic film collection to its current expansion of the Plastic Film Collection Shed behind MD Nursery greenhouse, Teton Valley Community Recycling’s (TVCR) effort to get plastic film collection scaled up to a county wide recycled commodity has had many challenges and many successes thanks to our amazing community and business partners.
For decades, Teton County was unable to accept plastic film for recycling because it is a difficult material to manage, especially post-consumer plastic waste. It is often contaminated, can easily blow away out of collection bins, and has the potential to tangle recycling machinery. As a result, literal tons of plastic bags, pallet wrap, and other sorts of plastic film were being trucked from Teton County businesses and households each year to the Circular Butte landfill, 90 miles away.
After reading an article about the Trex “Bags to Benches” program, TVCR decided to launch a pilot program by partnering with the Geo Center in Driggs and General Laundry in Victor, as well as Victor Elementary School and the Alta Library as public drop-off points for household plastic film waste (e.g. grocery bags, bread bags, cereal bags, case overwrap, etc.) This highly successful program resulted in more than 5000 pounds of Teton County plastic waste being diverted from the landfill and upcycled into Trex decking material. TVCR was then able to donate community benches made of this recycled plastic Trex material which you can now enjoy in many parks and public spaces around our community including Victor Elementary School, the Victor Dog Park, Driggs City Plaza, Ruby Carson Park, Alta Library, and the Alta School garden.
Collection of all of this plastic was done by TVCR volunteers who stored the plastic in personal vehicles, trailers, and homes prior to weighing and transporting it by van to Smith’s in Jackson, a store that sells its plastic waste to Trex. TVCR staff were literally being buried by plastic waste with each van load weighing approximately 150 pounds and taking several weeks to accumulate from community collection. Staff painstakingly sorted out contaminants and worked towards educating the public on what materials were recyclable and what was trash.
After two years of collecting, TVCR felt confident that the recycling public could do a good job recycling only the accepted plastics and not contaminating the material by “wish cycling” or dropping off wet or dirty material. TVCR then worked with County Transfer Station staff to attempt a trial bale with the county’s recycling baler. With two months worth of plastic, enough to fill a small house, the baling operation began. Although the massive pile of plastic shrank down to one 600 pound bale, about 70% of the required volume for a Trex bale, the test was a success and proved that Teton County’s existing machinery could indeed bale plastic film. However, one big hurdle remained. Where to store all of the plastic – both the finished bales and the loose, pre-baled plastic.
In 2022, TVCR connected with Trex corporate office to talk about scaling up the successful pilot program. In order to do so, Trex requires that Teton County be able to deliver 40 tons of plastic film over a two year period. Not a problem, except for the lack of dry storage space. Trex was happy with the quality of collected plastic and offered to donate a trucking container to the county to store baled plastic to prevent it from degrading, littering, and providing a dry storage space to allow the county to expand recycling collections.
Fast forward to 2023, with the shipping container finally installed at the Transfer Station and trial bales successfully created by Transfer Station staff, TVCR was ready to look for a place to scale up plastic collection. Through a grant from Silver Star Communication, a generous donation from Grow Huts and a wonderful partnership with MD Nursery, a new collection shed was erected behind the MD Nursery greenhouse where the public can drop off any of the accepted plastic film materials. These include bubble wrap/plastic air pillows, plastic mailers, grocery bags, and miscellaneous other plastic film. Food packaging is no longer accepted due to the high potential for crumbs and contaminants attracting rodents and bugs.
At the same time, RAD Curbside, an active partner in increasing county waste diversion, has begun a pilot program collecting plastic pallet wrap and other business plastic film from a handful of early adopters. Once the kinks are worked out, RAD hopes to expand the opportunity to recycle plastic film will be offered to more businesses as well as residential curbside recycling customers.
Together, RAD, Teton County Solid Waste, and TVCR hope to see a huge drop in the amount of plastic film being sent to the landfill by businesses and residents when it can be sorted, baled, and sold to be recycled into plastic composite building material.
For more about TVCR’s other community waste reduction efforts including Pierre’s Pedal Project (bicycle upcycling), TerraCycle collections, battery recycling, and reuse programs, visit tetonrecycling.org TVCR is a 501.c.3 non-profit who relies heavily on community support through the Tin Cup Challenge. Thanks so much for being a community that cares!