Piloting PET Thermoform Recycling for Cleaner Waterways
A Texas-sized THANK YOU from Texan by Nature and Texans for Clean Water to all who have participated in the PET Recycling Pilot in El Paso! The El Paso community’s participation in this pilot demonstrated a community interest in taking care of Texas’ natural resources and has generated valuable data and learning about scalable community recycling efforts. Read the final report.
On July 6, 2022 Texans for Clean Water and Texan by Nature launched a first of its kind, 6-month #1 PET thermoform recycling pilot project in partnership with Sam’s Club at their four El Paso, Texas locations. The key differentiator for this pilot compared to others, is that it paid consumers 10 cents per item recycled. The purpose of this pilot was to:
Understand the impact of incentives, education, and marketing on consumer recycling
Create a circularity model that supports the positive business case for PET thermoform recycling
Identify existing gaps to develop best practices and recommendations for replication
Through this pilot project, the following materials were accepted: empty, CLEAR PLASTIC bottles and clamshells (used for bakery items, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables), trays, tubs, clear egg cartons, lids, and cups. These are often marked with the #1 PET symbol.
Texas is ranked number 42 of 50, with a 13% recycling rate for rigid plastics packaging, glass bottles and jars, and steel and aluminum cans. Litter, like polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common plastic, poses threats to waterways, wildlife, city infrastructure, health of communities, and diverts funding that could be spent elsewhere.
Trash and litter in Texas by the numbers:
400,000 tons of trash and litter are produced annually in Texas
10 Texas cities spend more than $75M per year on litter and illegal dumping, including $6M per year in costs to the City of El Paso
Texas’ four largest population centers will start to run out of landfill space in 2030.
The pilot was fully funded by Texans for Clean Water, BlueTriton Brands, and D6 Inc. Texan by Nature ideated, facilitated, and managed the pilot project. MeCycle provided app development and support. BlueTriton Brands joining the pilot allowed for the acceptance of #1 PET bottles in September 2022. Recycling receptacles were located at four Sam’s Club locations in El Paso and D6, Inc. supported the development of the receptacles and coordinated materials processing/recycling.
Additionally, all data, best practices, and lessons learned were captured and reported to share with other retailers as a model for replication.
Collaboration & Community Engagement
At the conclusion of the pilot, $3,500 in donations was made to seven local El Paso non-profits: El Paso Community Foundation, El Paso Zoo Society, Green Hope Project, Paso del Norte Community Foundation, Second Chance Wildlife Rescue, The Frontera Land Alliance, and Tom Lea Institute.
As part of the pilot, Texan by Nature hosted a video contest for El Paso high school students. Students were asked to create a 1-minute informational video about the PET Recycling Pilot at El Paso Sam’s Clubs and the importance of recycling. Out of 19 video submissions from 36 students, 4 videos created by 10 students were selected as winners. These 10 winning participants were awarded $150 each for a total of $1500 paid out to the next generation of leaders in sustainability and community engagement. Watch the winning videos here.
Organizations were convened across the supply chain to create a successful circularity model for recycling #1 PET thermoforms and bottles.
During the six month pilot there was steady month over month growth of materials collected (88% average) and active users (52% average). With the acceptance of bottles, larger receptacles, and paid marketing beginning in September, the pilot saw a 236% growth in number of active users per month and 388% growth in materials collected on January 9, 2023 as compared to the end of September.
This upward trend is continuing, with 170,000 items collected by over 531 unique active, users as of July 25, 2023. As a result, Sam’s Club and D6 are continuing a modified version of the pilot in El Paso, along with expanding to other locations. Learn more about their on-going recycling efforts inspired by the El Paso PET Recycling Pilot here.