Part 2 of 2 of Fantastic Plastic from Ode Magazine
“We should be celebrating plastic,” says Anthony Zolezzi, co-founder of Greenopolis and the GreenOps Recycling System, an interactive approach to giving “trash” a second life. “It’s how we abuse it and don’t re-use it that’s a problem. [Plastic is] an amazing ingredient that we should look at as a precious material, no different than we look at gold.”
Greenopolis, a rewards-based recycling program launched in 2009, aims to halt the abuse and disposal of plastic. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the company has so far installed 335 kiosks in the U.S., mostly at Whole Foods Markets with a few at college campuses and in stadiums like the Staples Center in L.A. and Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Every Greenopolis kiosk has a touch screen, like an ATM, and a scanner that can identify any plastic with a barcode. Once the plastic is dropped into the appropriate bin, the kiosk prints a receipt with reward points redeemable at any of Greenopolis’ 10,000 retail partners, ranging from restaurants and rental car agencies to hotels and clothing stores.
The points can also be saved in an online user account on Greenopolis’ website, which serves as a hub for information about recycling and plastic. A virtual ticker keeps a running tab on how many bottles have been recycled through Greenopolis (latest count: 4,911,249), and new educational content is posted three times a day to Greenopolis’ YouTube channel. Users can earn points for commenting on educational content or participating in virtual games on Greenopolis’ Facebook page, which has 30,000 fans.
Zolezzi says the company plans to install an additional 3,000 kiosks by the first quarter of 2011 and double that by the end of 2011. This spring, PepsiCo launched a new recycling initiative, the Dream Machine, which aims to put recycling kiosks in public venues like gas stations, parks and stadiums across the country. Greenopolis will operate all Dream Machines.
“Re-use is nothing new,” Zolezzi says, pointing to the rationing of flour, tin and aluminum during World War II as a model for the way a society can work together to conserve. “We just have a generational gap in frivolous use of plastics and derivatives without thinking about the consequences.”
But no matter how thorough our efforts, recycling alone won’t change the fact that the techniques by which we source and recycle plastics remain problematic. Nearly all virgin plastic is made from petroleum or natural gas, both of which are non-renewable resources. What’s more, even if we collected all virgin plastic after consumer use, only a small percent would be made into new plastic. The rest, as is the case with most recycled plastic today, would be turned into carpets, shirts, shopping bags or Patagonia fleeces that, after a couple years, would end up in the landfill.
Plastic therefore needs to be re-invented as well as recycled.
Next: Bioplastic to the rescue