Disposable plastic, by the numbers

• Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, about 42,000 per minute, or about 695 per second.

• It takes 500 years for average-sized plastic water bottles to fully decompose.

• The amount of plastic film and wrap produced annually could shrink-wrap the state of Texas.

Source: Rubicon Global, a technology company for waste, recycling, and smart city solutions.

A Bend-based event waste management company is on a mission to find the most environmental way to dispose of plastic cups, utensils and containers used by thousands of people attending concerts at Les Schwab Amphitheater.

If The Broomsmen has its way, Les Schwab Amphitheater will be using polystyrene plastics, which The Broomsmen will collect and ship over the Cascades to Agilyx, a Tigard company that chemically recycles difficult-to-recycle mixed-waste plastic.

The Broomsmen owner Phil Torchio hopes to convince the amphitheater to switch to polystyrene from compostable plastic cups, clamshells and utensils. The compostable plastic is not accepted for compost in Bend because compost users don’t want shards of plastic mixed in. Instead, the materials are placed in the Knott Landfill as trash, said Timm Schimke, director of solid waste for Deschutes County.

The amphitheater, which consumes about 5,000 cups per show, hasn’t decided which direction to go for the upcoming Pole Pedal Paddle, which will finish at Les Schwab May 18. Venue manager Marney Smith said she has to consider the entire environmental footprint of the options.

The Broomsmen used chemical recycling last summer with plastic waste from the McMenamins Edgefield 2018 concert series in Troutdale, and it was deemed a success, Torchio said.

“You go through so many cups, millions every summer, and it ends up in the landfill,” Torchio said. “We needed a solution to either recycle or reuse.”

John Desmarteau, Agilyx director of business development, said chemical recycling breaks down the plastic to the molecular level, which makes it different from traditional mechanical recycling.

“We use our technology to make a specific chemical to go back to the manufacturer,” Desmarteau said. “The great thing is what we’re doing, diverting material from and displacing the need for virgin material.”

With 4,000 people at a time attending concerts at Les Schwab, and half of them purchasing a beverage, that’s a lot of trash to end up in a landfill, Smith said.

“Our goal is to be zero-­waste,” Smith said. “Reusable pints are good for season after season to encourage people not to use single-use compostable cups. We care about our impact on the world, and it’s important to us to create a product and experience that isn’t damaging to the environment.”

The Broomsmen’s role is to encourage sorting waste and recycling. The company sets up stations around the venue and positions staff to communicate with concertgoers about recycling, Torchio said.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible,” Torchio said. “What we’re trying to establish as much as possible is a closed loop recycling.

“The reality is that we rely on plastic for everything.”

Recyclable materials are trucked to the Portland metro area for sorting, Schimke said. The county has opted not to recycle low-value products, such as Styrofoam, that are recyclable in cities like Portland because of the added cost of transportation, Schimke said. The whole plastic recycling issue has been made worse by China’s unwillingness to take low-quality recyclables.

“We’re striving to keep things out of the landfill,” Schimke said. “Having that compostable stuff is better than having plastic in the landfill. There’s a slight upside with having that going in the landfill.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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