Many people don’t give much thought to the history of recycling. For example, some might find it surprising that the world’s first recycling efforts for paper began as early as 900 years ago in Japan. Closer to home in the late 1600s, cotton and linen rags were transformed into paper near Philadelphia. Later on in the mid- to late-1900s, items such as metal, twine, burlap, and even horse hair were being recycled into other usable items. By the time plastics recycling entered the scene in 1972, much of the United States had began to understand the importance of recycling efforts.

KW Plastics is the world’s largest plastics recycler, providing high-quality recycled plastic resins and pellets to some of the largest manufacturers on the planet. Our resins are used in many settings, including environmentally-responsible and sustainable products and packaging. To learn more about our products, contact a member of our sales team. In the meantime, join us as we take a brief look at the history of plastics recycling!

1970’s

Plastic became a widely-accepted and popular building material in the 1950s. Shortly after this, plastic waste began to take over landfills. People soon discovered that the durability which made plastic so attractive was also very detrimental to the environment because it was not easily broken down. This left governments and environmentalists scrambling for a solution and, in 1972, the first plastic recycling mill was built and opened in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

1980’s

As the public became more and more educated on the environmental implications of not recycling this popular material, plastics recycling efforts really began to ramp up. Many major cities throughout the United States began establishing and implementing curbside recycling programs for plastic.

KW Plastics established our plastics recycling plant in Troy, Alabama in 1981 in an effort to combat the piles of plastic waste taking over landfills. This plant focused primarily on recycling of polypropylene (PP). Thanks to the increased plastics recycling effort, recycled plastic in the United States exceeded 100 million pounds in 1984 — only 12 years after the opening of the Conshohocken mill!

Over the next four years, Rhode Island would begin to implement plastics recycling mandates for consumers. The now widely-recognized triangular recycling symbol with resin codes came into existence during this time, as well. Also, in 1986, KW Plastics opened another plastics recycling plant in Bakersfield, CA to accommodate large raw material suppliers on the west coast. KW Plastics recycling efforts were now a coast-to-coast operation.

1990’s

The 1990s saw a huge surge in recycling efforts. So much so that between 1988 and 1992, the number of curbside recycling programs increased nearly five times. Many of these programs had started accepting plastics as part of their collection process, allowing plastics recycling to benefit large manufacturers. Coca-Cola® began including recycled plastic into its manufacturing process of plastic bottles and Patagonia began manufacturing clothes with plastic from recycled bottles. Everyday items such as toothbrushes also began to be manufactured out of recycled plastic. Many grocery stores even began to participate in the effort by setting up in-store plastics recycling collection centers.

KW Plastics also saw growth in this decade as we began to look into what other types of plastics were available and suitable for recycling. In 1993, we opened our high-density polyethylene (HDPE) recycling facility right across the street from our headquarters. Just a year later, we were awarded the prestigious Ford Q1 Excellence in Supplier award for our clean, versatile, and superior recycled plastic product. We were successful enough by the late 90s that we were able to expand by entering into the packaging industry. We are so grateful for our success and role in the plastics recycling industry really taking off!

2000’s – the Present

The momentum built over the preceding three decades would continue on over the next several years as communities and plastics recyclers developed more simple and streamlined collection processes. For example, in the early 2000s, consumers were no longer required to separate glass, plastic, and paper for their curbside recycling program and the “single stream” recycling effort was born. By 2013, the number of cities in the United States accepting plastic bottles for recycling exceeded 2,000, increasing from the 1,570 cities just two years prior. It is also estimated that more than 90 percent of Americans now have access to plastic bottle recycling. This is an unbelievable statistic of achievement in just a short period of time, historically speaking.

Plastics recycling hasn’t always been as popular or widely-accepted as it is currently. With the diligence of our government, local communities, and plastics recycling companies like KW Plastics, the amount of plastic waste cluttering our landfills has been dramatically reduced. Our commitment to our environment and manufacturing partners is second to none, and we would be honored to be your company’s partner in creating sustainable products and packaging! Contact a member of our sales team today to learn more about the high-quality PP and HDPE products we offer.

We look forward to working with you!