Blaine County Recycle Center Supervisor Lamar Waters uses a forklift to stack bundles of compressed plastics at the Ohio Gulch facility.
Photo by Roland Lane

Where do the bottles go?
Writer Kate Wutz explains what happens to the tons of materials recycled each year by Blaine County residents.
In a valley as green as this one, residents spend a lot of time sorting out their recyclables—paper in this bin, metals in that bin, plastics in another. But what happens once the truck picks up the materials from the curb and takes them to the Blaine County Recycle Center at Ohio Gulch, north of Hailey?

At The Store
The cycle starts at the grocery or convenience store, where we buy packaged products, including large volumes of bottled water.

The first thing to note is that many companies actually sell water in recycled plastic bottles. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that most plastic water bottles and other beverage bottles are made from PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, which is marked with a number "1" on the bottom of the bottle.

The EPA states that PET is one of the most commonly recycled plastics, and there is a growing demand for it. The plastics industry has also started to reduce the amount of plastic actually used in packaging, allowing recycled products to stretch further.

However, PET is not the only type of plastic recycled in Blaine County. The Blaine County Recycle Center recycles plastics type 1 through 5, which includes milk jugs, baby bottles and deli containers. Those planning to recycle a product's packaging later should check that number before making a purchase.

In addition to plastics, all aluminum beverage cans can be recycled in Blaine County, regardless of size.

At Home
Once the consumer has drunk the water in the bottle, the bottle inevitably goes in the recycling bin at home. Residents should be separating items into three groups for curbside pickup: plastics, metals (aluminum and tin) and fiber (newspaper, magazines and mixed paper). Homeowners can also drop off corrugated cardboard and glass at the Blaine County Recycle Center, where Recycle Center Supervisor Lamar Waters and his crew are ready to take over.

At The Recycle Center
"We have our hand on the pulse of the valley up here," Waters said. "We know everything. We can kind of tell based on volumes, oh, Sun Valley had a good week or there was a big event. It's kind of neat. You can tell when the retailers start stocking up for spring—we get a lot of bike boxes."

Blaine County Outreach and Education Coordinator Bronwyn Nickel said Blaine County residents and visitors recycled 1,627 tons of material last year, all of which passed through the center. That's slightly down from 2012, she said, but recycling rates jumped so high from 2011 to 2012 that overall long-term numbers are still up.

Once at the center, materials are sorted, compacted and made ready for shipping. Waters works with two main brokers: Aluminum goes to Green Team Solutions, based in Logan, Utah, and plastic goes to Western Recycling, which has an office in Boise.

The Processors
In turn, those brokers further sort the material and sell it to processors, who actually transform the materials into new products. Waters said Green Team Solutions sells plastics to companies in the greater Los Angeles region, including Hollywood and Montebello.

From there, the plastics are melted, stretched and pelletized. A video produced by Marglen Industries, a PET recycling and processing plant located in Georgia, shows how plastic is melted, stretched and turned into pellets. The video can be viewed at

Depending on quality, the material is then either sent off to make new bottles, or it's further stretched and spun into fiber. Waters said the fiber from Blaine County plastics is typically turned into carpets or stuffing for pillows or mattresses.

Cardboard, he said, is sold to a company called International Paper in Springfield, Ore., through Western Recycling. The cardboard is actually taken by a True Value Hardware truck that has Ketchum as the last stop on its route. Rather than driving back to Oregon with an empty truck, the hauler picks up 42,000 pounds of cardboard a week from the center and brings it to the processing plant.

From there, Waters said, the cardboard is turned into a "paper soup" that can either be turned into brown paper—like the kind used in paper bags—or lightweight cardboard, depending on quality.
"Every time you recycle paper, it loses fiber," Waters said. "When it reaches the end of its life, it loses fiber and becomes something like egg cartons or those cushions in apple boxes. After two to three times, it becomes packing material."

As for aluminum, the transformation is a little more straightforward. Waters said Western Recycling sells its aluminum—which is melted into ingots before being turned into aluminum sheeting—to processing plants that turn around and sell the materials back to beverage companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Coors.

"It's domestic," he said. "It stays in the country. And within 60 days of you throwing out a can, it could be right back on the shelf."

Back At The Store
From there, the cycle starts over—aluminum cans made from other aluminum cans are placed on shelves, waiting to be used and recycled again, while plastic bottles that have been recycled once can be recycled again into lower-grade plastics, such as fiber for carpets and even fleece jackets, such as the ones made by Patagonia from recycled soda bottles.

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