Hard-to-Recycle Plastics Find New Life

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Preserve Products


Reusing hard-to-recycle plastics




Higher rate of diversion of plastics from landfills


Recycling has long been established as an effective form of waste management, along with being a vital part of moving towards becoming a sustainable society, but how much do you really know about it? For some people, it might be surprisingly little. When it comes to plastic, most recyclers only accept #1 and #2 because of cost effectiveness, which leaves more difficult categories such as #5 plastics to be sent to the landfill. This wasn’t an acceptable fate for Eric Hudson, president and founder of Preserve Products; instead of watching the difficult-to-recycle polypropylene plastics, like drinking straws and medicine bottles, being thrown away, he decided to base his entire business model on diverting it away from landfills.

Launched in 1996, Preserve began taking these plastics and turning them into toothbrushes, which has gradually expanded into a full product line that includes kitchenware and storage containers. This was the company’s vision from the beginning, says Hudson: “I wanted to start a company that would that have less impact on the earth and make fantastic products that people use everyday. I found a space to try to accomplish this and a market opportunity in the sense that there was more and more recycling going on in the early 90s but there was also this big question of what my stuff turns into. I wanted to deliver on those actions that consumers were already doing but also help the industry by creating demand for the materials that were recycled out there.”

Along the way, Preserve has worked to increase recycling opportunities to the public, as curbside polypropylene still isn’t widely available. Through a partnership with Whole Foods, consumers can drop-off their #5 plastics for future usage in Preserve products at stores across the country. For areas not served by Whole Foods, they’ve also put into place a number of mail-in programs to ensure that even the most difficult-to-recycle products avoid landfills.

Drew Nitschke is a first-year graduate student at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, working towards degree in Environmental Economics and Policy. He is especially interested in sustainability and how it relates to business of all sizes. He graduated from UCLA in June 2012 after...
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