It just got easier to recycle plastic in Southern Nevada as Republic Services celebrated the opening of a “first of its kind” recycling facility in North America on the eastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley.
The new $70 million Polymer Center, which lists Coca-Cola as one of its initial partners, can take rigid plastic materials such as water bottles and other plastic consumer goods and recycle the material into other consumer goods, rather than down-cycling the plastic into less sensitive products such as drainage pipes or park benches.
Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability for Republic, says the center allows plastics in consumer goods to stay in service and have a longer life cycle.
“When you’re putting materials into those types of markets, there’s limited application — it’s a drainage pipe, it’s a septic system, it’s some other type of construction material,” he said. “That’s recycling, and that’s all good, good use of that material, it gets a second life. But then, at the end of that material’s life, it’s very difficult to recycle.”
The hope is that the Polymer Center can recycle a plastic bottle up to six or seven times before it would have to be down-cycled, Keller said. The center can produce more than 100 million pounds of recycled plastics per year and can sort plastic by food and non-food use as well as by color, so if a plastic bottle comes in as green, it can be recycled as green.
‘Driver for demand’
Republic Services held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center on Tuesday and invited many local officials, including Gov. Joe Lombardo and Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, to celebrate its opening. The facility employs 65 workers.
Both Kirkpatrick and Lombardo were extremely positive that the facility would be a great asset for Southern Nevada and boost the profile of the east Las Vegas area. They also touted the jobs being added to the area.
“This today is a perfect example of the businesses that we’re trying to attract,” Lombardo said. “Businesses that we’re going to assist to open their doors to be successful, and businesses that are going to provide jobs, that employees have the ability to provide a quality of life for themselves and their families, not jobs for the sake of jobs, real jobs, jobs are providing advancement.”
Republic put its first regional Polymer Center in Las Vegas because the company already owned land and had a large presence in the area, Keller said. He said the center will take in plastic materials and ship recycled products from Nevada, Arizona and all along the West Coast.
Keller said Las Vegas is also a good location for the center because of its proximity to California, where state law requires plastic products to be made with a certain percentage of postconsumer recycled plastic material.
The law currently requires recycled plastic products to be made of at least 15 percent recycled material. This percentage will increase to 25 percent in 2025 and to 50 percent in 2030, according to California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
“We saw that as kind of a driver for demand,” Keller said.
Companies are motivated to put more recycled material in their packaging, he said. Coca-Cola has announced plans to make its packaging out of 50 percent recycled materials by 2030.
“Historically, these recycled resins kind of traded at a discount to virgin (plastic). They were just lower lower cost inputs,” Keller said. “Historically, the brands in the manufacturers didn’t value this material. We’re seeing that start to change. Most every major (consumer packaged good business) has some type of voluntary sustainability goal related to their packaging.”
Growth for facility, company
Republic Services has entered a partnership with Coca-Cola for the company to take a “significant amount” of the recycled plastic material produced at the Las Vegas center, Keller said, though he wouldn’t say how much material the company would take.
Republic plans to open at least three more polymer recycling centers that will serve different regions of the U.S. and could open even more, depending on demand. The next Polymer Center will open in Indianapolis in late 2024.
The Las Vegas center will be used as an example by the company to showcase this type of recycling facility which is important as consumer usage of plastic isn’t going away anytime soon, Keller said.
“There’s a place for reusable, there’s a place for refillable, but the fact of the matter is, there’s still a lot of on the go consumption, and there’s still a lot of single-use packaging in the marketplace.”