Recycling — It's not just for paper anymore

Environment

Georgia‐Pacific's commitment to keeping as much material out of the waste stream as possible leads us far beyond paper.

Each year, GP Harmon Recycling, a division of Georgia‐Pacific, purchases more than 6 million tons of recovered paper. About a third of that is used by Georgia‐Pacific in its paper and corrugated products. But GP Harmon also collects recyclables of all sorts, from pill bottles to x‐ray film, and trades it with companies that turn it into all types of products. The recovered items it collects end up in some surprising places.

Take water bottles, for example. “We may help somebody collect water bottles and soda bottles, and we may sell it to somebody who's going to turn it into a carpet application,” said Heather Stuckey, national accounts director for GP Harmon.

These bottles are a main source of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET (also known as polyester), which is a remarkable shape‐shifter. “You can blow it into a bottle or you can draw it out into a fiber,” explained Kevin Butts, GP Harmon's director of business development.

When major retailers cut open pallets of goods wrapped in shrink wrap, GP Harmon collects that material, too. Where does it end up? Often, in new shrink wrap or in trash bags.

GP Harmon also collects stock pill bottles from pharmacies. We ship them to our recycling facility in Tennessee, where the paper is separated from the plastic and the bottles are shredded, washed and packaged for shipment to the customer. The plastic goes on to become anything from composite decking material to railroad ties.

Plastic garment hangers collected from large retailers may become new hangers or even take‐out food containers.

The value of recycling plastic is – like some of the plastic itself – clear. “Plastics are oil based, and by using recycled plastic, manufacturers don't have to acquire virgin oil byproducts,” said Stuckey. “And on the other side, everything you use is something that doesn't go into the landfill.”

Another benefit: As more plastic materials are recycled, the markets for them grow and that makes it easier and cheaper to recycle them. And as the cost of recycled materials goes down, so can the prices of the deck boards, flower pots, auto parts and other products that contain them.

GP Harmon is also in the business of recovering metal. When doctors' offices and hospitals around the country purge their old x‐ray films, GP Harmon acquires them partly for their silver coating and moves them to a refiner, who extracts the silver and turns it into silver bars. These become components in everything from cell phones to light switches. And it collects aluminum and steel from local recyclers.

Whether plastics or metals, it's all about getting the right material to the right place. In all, GP Harmon manages more than 130,000 tons of non‐paper recyclable material annually. Waste not, want not.