What do you do when you see a clear plastic wrapper on the ground outside, on a bus seat, or even crumpled up in someone’s hands, seconds away from being thrown out? Well, Somerville resident Alicia Durfey picks it up. She never leaves home without a bag and a pair of Home Depot Gorilla Gloves for this exact reason, and isn’t shy about asking strangers if she can take their trash.
Locals may recognize Durfey from the vintage resale store Stow—which formerly had a storefront in Union Square that closed due to complications with the lease—but her newest project takes her background in sustainability to another level. Last year, she began the boutique recycling company Blackbird Plastics, which is meant to help small businesses and residences recycle clear plastic film.
What is clear plastic film, exactly? Once it’s pointed out to you, you start seeing it everywhere, Durfey says. Think: the thin plastic bags that clothes are shipped in, bubble wrap, the plastic wrap surrounding packages of toilet paper and paper towels, the plastic that to-go utensils are eagerly ripped out of, the bags that stacks of cups are sold in, seran wrap, and the list goes on.
“Just because it’s small and see-through, doesn’t mean it’s not making a big difference,” Durfey says.
The problem with this type of plastic is that it’s not easily recyclable, and it does not belong in the big blue bins that people are used to. Tossing this type of plastic into a single-stream receptacle can actually contaminate the entire batch of recycling, causing it all to be dumped into a landfill. Other common mistakes with single-stream recycling include not washing used items like milk cartons or cans properly, not allowing washed items to dry before dumping them, or failing to sort items well. According to the National Waste and Recycling Association, about a quarter of recycling is contaminated and ends up in landfills.
With Blackbird Plastics, Durfey is trying to fight this problem on a hyperlocal level—by rolling her sleeves up, getting in her car, picking up gallons upon gallons of plastic, and delivering it to a family-owned facility called Conigliaro Industries in Framingham once a week.
Blackbird offers subscription services at various price points: A one-time pick-up costs $14.99, while a six-month recurring pick-up subscription goes down to $13.99 per month. The 12-month commitment is the most cost effective, at $12.99 per month. Blackbird provides customers with a five-gallon bucket, and then Durfey comes to collect it once it’s full. She charges $5 for anyone who wants an extra bucket delivered.
Currently, Blackbird Plastics has a little under 40 subscribers—a mix between personal residences and commercial clients, including the bike-shop Somervelo and the Institute of Contemporary Art in downtown Boston. Durfey adds a personal touch to her services, as well; she texts and emails every client individually, rather than sending any mass correspondences, and works around each person’s schedule.
The Blackbird team is small, with only four people currently involved, but it has grown quickly during its first year of operation. Like Durfey, the rest of the Blackbird team has also been inspired by the idea that any person can make a difference, even if it is only in their community. In addition to providing recycling services, Blackbird also has an online blog that is periodically updated with motivational and educational materials about sustainability.
Currently based out of Miller Street Studios, the self-proclaimed “hardware programming nerd” Durfey wants to have her own recycling machines one day. She also hopes to expand her project by working with other recycling services in the area and by taking on more and more clients.
After living in Somerville for 12 years, Durfey is committed to protecting her community—much like the black kite bird for which she says the company is named. The black kite is known for its impressive colorful nests—made up of found objects, often plastic—meant to protect its chicks inside. She compares herself to the bird, reusing things creatively, sending out the same message: “Just because these things are little, doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.”
To learn more about plastic film and Blackbird Plastics, visit blackbirdplastics.com.
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