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Michigan environmentalists say plexiglass could be big problem for our landfills

Proper disposal of the plastic is crucial to not overwhelm landfills
Proper plexiglass disposal is crucial to not overwhelm landfills
Posted at 6:36 AM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 08:19:36-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — During peak COVID-19 months we saw plexiglass in just about every classroom, business and workplace. Now that a lot of plexiglass has been taken down, environmentalists worry improper disposal of the material could be harmful to the environment.

Plexiglass was recommended by health officials when COVID-19 first spread to help prevent infection. Plastic manufacturers had to step up and produce more plexiglass than ever before.

“It's just been such a strange situation with the COVID," owner of Zoomer Display in Grand Rapids Jackson Martin said.

Zoomer Display made all types of personal protective equipment to help with the COVID-19 effort. Martin says he's never seen so much plexiglass demand in his life.

“Absolutely strange," he said. "We had no idea, but we're thankful that we were ready to help out.”

Zoomer Display is back to business as usual making all types of plastic products and a lot of places are taking their plexiglass down. But where is it all going?

"Probably some of it is ending up in landfills," Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy recycling specialist Tracy Purrenhage said.

Purrenhage says plexiglass is ending up in our landfills because people aren't sure how to get rid of it.

“It's not something that they're going to be able to put into their normal recycling container that's out back with their normal paper, plastic, metal and glass containers. It does have to be handled special and through a special process," Purrenhage said.

That special process includes infrared technology that distinguishes exactly what's in the material and then separate it by material at industrial recycling facilities.

“Those dividers are made up of either acrylic or polycarbonate. So it does require special handling," Purrenhage said.

Because recycling the complex material takes a bit of effort seeking out industrial recycling facilities, environmentalists like Purrenhage say they're worried people are simply tossing plexiglass with the rest of the trash.

“Acrylic and polycarbonate is not something that's going to break down easily in a landfill. It's going to take up landfill space and that's something that we obviously don't want to have to happen," Purrenhage added.

She recommends keeping the plexiglass around just in case there's another health emergency, reusing it and repurposing it for other use or seeking out an industrial recycling facility to drop off your plexiglass.

She says fixing one health issue like the spread of COVID-19 shouldn't have to come with the cost of hurting the environment.

“Landfills are really not designed to make things go away. Landfills are designed to keep things inside of it, and so the more things that we put in a landfill, the more landfills that we're going to need," Purrenhage said.

West Michigan Industrial Recycling Facilities: