Recycling partnership gives plastics—and ex-cons—new lease on life

Waste-to-energy company Brightmark Energy (San Francisco) and RecycleForce, an Indianapolis-based 501(c)3 social enterprise that provides electronic recycling services and employs formerly incarcerated individuals, announced a new multi-faceted collaboration involving training, hiring and recycling.

RecycleForce worker
RecycleForce provides employment and training opportunities to approximately 300 formerly incarcerated men and women annually. Image courtesy RecycleForce.

Brightmark has committed to hiring RecycleForce-trained individuals for jobs at its Ashley, IN–advanced plastic recycling plant. Meanwhile, RecycleForce will provide Brightmark with up to 1,700 tons per month of difficult-to-recycle plastics from televisions, computers, car seats and similar products for processing at its northeast Indiana facility.

“I recently visited RecycleForce’s facility in Indianapolis, and I left feeling so inspired by the important work they do,” said Brightmark Energy CEO Bob Powell. “Brightmark is incredibly proud to be collaborating with an organization that provides such vital services to the community and to formerly incarcerated folks—and their families, by extension—who are trying to change their lives for the better. We look forward to building a long and fruitful partnership for both of our organizations. I can’t wait to see RecycleForce’s qualified trainees on our factory floor as Brightmark employees.”

RecycleForce provides approximately 300 formerly incarcerated men and women with workforce training, case management, peer mentorship and job opportunities each year. Analysis has shown that RecycleForce’s benefits to society are significant: Reduced recidivism and increased employment produced $1.20 in economic value for every dollar invested in the program. The recidivism rate of RecycleForce participants is 25% versus about 77% nationwide.

“We recycle many tons of plastic every year, but when we receive plastics that are contaminated with food waste or other non-recycle materials, they have to be sent to landfills,” explained Gregg Keesling, President of RecycleForce. “Our partnership with Brightmark will enable us instead to recycle these plastics and will open up significant capacity for us to attract new suppliers of recyclable materials, and in turn, increase the amount of feedstock we provide to Brightmark. This means more revenue for RecycleForce, and more revenue means we can counsel, train and prepare more returning citizens for the workforce.”

Brightmark has created a stable and predictable market for residual plastics like those from e-waste, which were previously considered unrecyclable by electronic waste processors. After China and other countries stopped accepting imported U.S. post-use plastics, many recycling processors ended up with a glut of plastics and nowhere to send them except to a landfill. Brightmark and RecycleForce’s multiyear agreement allows for the annual volume of supplied plastic feedstock materials to grow over time, as RecycleForce expands its operations and is able to take on more of these types of materials, said Brightmark.

Andrew King, Inventory and Quality Control Director for RecycleForce, commented, “Right now, I’ve got 10 semi-trucks worth of plastic sitting here ready to ship to Brightmark’s plant as soon as it’s up and running. That’s 10 semis worth of product that I haven’t been able to process because of the China recycling glut that we’re facing in the United States. The second these trucks leave our lot for recycling with Brightmark, we can bring in more materials.”

In addition to the feedstock and hiring commitments, RecycleForce program participants will play a key role at Brightmark’s Ashley, IN, plant, where they will lead workforce training for the facility’s new staff on workplace safety, forklift operation and other operational needs.

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