Santa Barbara has stopped accepting thin-film plastics everywhere except at one spot: Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners & Launderers. With every freshly cleaned item covered with a plastic bag, Ablitt’s has been baling up stuff that’s been returned since 2010, along with plastic film, bubble wrap, and other soft plastics. Owner Sasha Ablitt said it’s been a beneficial relationship with Trex of Virginia: Trex needs the polyethylene to produce its artificial wood decking, and Ablitt’s is a little greener. “Santa Barbarans don’t have to throw away film plastic,” Ablitt said. “Bring it to Ablitt’s, and we will recycle it!”
From Ablitt’s at 14 West Gutierrez Street, the bales go to Colton, California, for collection, and end up at the Trex manufacturing plant in Nevada, said Nick Candela, a Trex buyer. There, the composite lumber decking is made with 97 percent recycled material, including hardwood sawdust, and 3 percent virgin plastic.
The plastics must be clean and dry, however, to be successfully recycled into the decking material, both Ablitt and Candela emphasized. Cross-contamination with food particles, other organic matter, or rigid plastics can spoil a batch, Candela said. But “grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, stretch film, shrink wrap” can all be recycled by Trex, he added, or any polyethylene soft plastic. “And we’re always looking for more.”