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Massive, Laser-Equipped Baltimore Recycling Plant Will Be a Game Changer

Rubbish that can be recycledThanks to a massive injection of cash, a major recycling plant is slated to open this October in Baltimore, and the high-tech plastic program is already being called a “game changer” for the recycling industry.

With the zero-interest loan from the Closed Loop Fund, Company QRS’s Baltimore plant will service a 500-mile region of the East Coast and use sophisticated lasers to sort yogurt cups, milk cartons, plastic bottles, and various other recyclables at record speeds.

Plastics and plastic containers are already some of the most recycled materials on the planet. School children learn how to recognize the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom of their soda bottles, and millions of homes across the country fill up recycling bins with such items. Plastics are rated on a numbering system which specifies how they can be recycled, and at present, 70% of U.S. cities cannot accept plastics rated #3-#7. And that’s why so many millions of yogurt containers, lawn furniture, take out containers, and other forms of “rigid” plastics end up clogging our landfills, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

When the new recycling program goes online in Baltimore, that could all change. The technology to recycle #3-#7 plastics isn’t new, but the difficulty and high cost makes such techniques impractical for most recycling plants; this, despite the fact that past efforts to boost recycling have shown major results. For instance, previous initiatives to increase carpet recycling have already diverted more than 1.5 billion pounds of waste from U.S. landfills. But with most U.S. cities completely strapped for cash, it’s been difficult to get new plastic recycling programs off the ground.

“Recycling has been stagnant for the last five to ten years in the U.S.,” Closed Loop Fund co-founder Rob Kaplan says. “We’re pretty excited that we’re finally able to make this concept a tangible reality.”

The Closed Loop Fund has deep, deep pockets. Its backers include some of the largest companies in the world, including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, and Procter and Gamble. In addition to the $2 million provided to Company QRS in Baltimore, the fund has doled out more than $24 million in low or zero-interest loans to cities, non-profits, and recycling companies. And the Closed Loop Fund says it still has $90 million more to give out in the next year.

Two additional high-tech plastic recycling plants are slated to open soon, one in Portage County, Ohio, and another in the Quad Cities region of Iowa. The fund estimates that the three plants will divert more than half a million tons of waste from landfills, rivers, and oceans annually.

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