This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Vanessa Ellison's name
The company that buys everything Denton residents put in their recycle bin is having a hard time finding its own buyers for some of those recyclables this year.
As a result, glass is going to the landfill and, until recently, some plastics were, too, according to a new report to the City Council. The report contained copies of letters between Pratt Industries and city officials outlining the issue.
Denton’s recycling contamination rates aside, the letters detailed problems for Denton in the recycling marketplace, which has wobbled since China banned the import of U.S. plastics in 2017.
Pratt told city officials that plastic type Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 have always been hard to shop to recycling companies. They called the city in March to say items like spray bottles, condiment squeeze bottles, yogurt tubs, reusable plastic keepers and plastic cups and plates were going to the landfill instead.
In addition, glass is going to the landfill for now. Pratt lost a buyer because of the way the waste is screened. Other bits got mixed in with broken glass, which is no longer acceptable in the marketplace.
In his letter to the city, Shawn State, president of Pratt, said they found two new buyers for the harder-to-recycle plastics and as of April 24 were sorting and baling them again. The company also found a recycling company in Houston that was willing to take a trial load of glass to see whether they could work with materials from Denton. That load was picked up May 7.
State did not return a call for comment.
Ethan Cox, the city’s solid waste director, said he didn’t learn until after the fact that materials were being sent to the landfill, limiting the city’s options on educating consumers.
In his letter, State offered monthly conference calls to update the city on what, and how much, is recycled along with updates on market conditions.
He also suggested that the city consider recycling glass separately, a change that has been successful in other communities.
Vanessa Ellison, education coordinator in the city’s Sustainability Department, said most communities aren’t recycling glass at all. Separating glass would require people to change their habits in Denton, she added.
“We don’t want to make it harder on everyone,” Ellison said.
The bottom line for residents, however, is to keep cleaning recyclables as best they can and put them in the blue bin. Pratt officials said they remain willing to buy the raw material, sort it, sell what they can and continue to look for new buyers.
The city’s contract with Pratt ends in 2027, with two 10-year extensions built in. Cox echoed Pratt’s call to recycle responsibly.
“We’re hoping the market begins to stabilize over the next few years, but it is hard to say at this point,” Cox wrote in an email. “Domestic markets will need to step up to replace China’s demand for recyclable materials. Because China accounted for 30-40% of the global recycling market, I expect most recycling processors to increase and maintain high quality standards to control supply.”