As retailers gear up for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the market for food and product packaging has geared down.

Recyclers across Montana are asking consumers to be more discriminating about what they put in the bins, especially when it comes to plastic.

“Missoula has been very conscientious, and if they do things carefully, it makes it easier on us,” Pacific Recycling manager Mason Mikkola said Tuesday. “Some places do take (plastics) No. 1 through 7 and mix it, but you really take a bath on the price when you do that. If someone throws a No. 5 plastic with the 1s or 2s, we can’t justify the time needed to separate it back out.”

Gallatin Solid Waste Management District officials recently announced they were taking plastics of only the No. 1 and 2 varieties – essentially soda bottles and milk jugs. District outreach director Rob Pudner said changes in the overseas markets for reusable plastics has crimped U.S. recyclers' options.

“Recent changes to import regulations in these countries have destroyed the demand for plastics No. 3-7 from the U.S.,” Pudner said in a letter to customers. “There is currently no outlet for these materials and there hasn’t been for quite some time. We’ve been accepting Nos. 3-7 with the hope that the market would provide an outlet in the future, but we’ve reached a point where it just isn’t going to happen.”

Those less-popular types of plastic will go to the landfill, and Pudner said it was better to dispose of them locally than ship them hundreds of miles to a Pacific Coast plastics buyer who will landfill them there. Gallatin County collects about 300 tons of separated plastics a year.

“The amount of plastic waste we expect to add to the landfill is equal to 60 tons, or 20 percent of what we typically receive as trash at the landfill in one November day, spread throughout an entire year,” Pudner said. “At the same rate, we’ll add only 600 tons over the course of the next 10 years. This is equal to the amount of trash landfilled on one busy summer day.”

Mikkola said even the market for soda bottles was getting tough. No. 2 plastics have the best recycling value, while No. 1 plastics barely cover the cost of transport to a broker.

As for glass, Mikkola said most will still go to the dump. But that may not be as bad as it sounds.

“I don’t know that glass will ever have a market, because the silica its made of is so plentiful,” he said. “But the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has told us that while glass does take up space in the landfill, it creates air pockets and helps other stuff biodegrade quicker.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.