Day 25: Nov. 20th, 2009

March 9, 2010

Goooooood day! I finally finished my report on Extended Producer Responsibility/Product Stewardship. Look out for it at www.dordan.com under the sustainability tab!

Let us resume our clamshell recycling initiative narrative:

The next day I arrived to the office feeling much better having received Robert’s insightful email. I felt as though my journey of discovering an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging was slowly making progress. I had established that if our RPET packages are “read” like PET bottles via the MRF’s optical sorting technology, we could integrate our RPET packages into this recycling infrastructure. I also learned that we could develop a new market for mixed rigid plastic packaging post-consumer (that is, non-bottle grade plastic material), as is often the case in CA. I wonder which would be more cumbersome…Ha!

To my surprise, I received an email from the Environmental Director at Starbucks, responding to the email I sent yesterday.

Chandler,

Thanks for the email.

I am traveling in Los Angeles this afternoon and won’t return until Friday evening. I will be in the office next week, so please feel free to give me a call at your convenience. The best time to catch me is between 7:30 and 8:00 on weekdays, before meetings start up.

Cheers!

GROOOOOVVVVVVYYYYYYY. It looks like I may get my interview after all! My father, who is also coincidently the owner of Dordan, told me “not to hold my breath” about actually getting to speak with the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Not to be a jerk, but I love proving him wrong, at least for the better.

And another beneficial development: I had several responses to the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com about trying to recycling non-bottle PET thermoforms. The most insightful was from the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, who I discussed briefly in an earlier post.

Check it out:

The Plastic Recyclers Viewpoint…

Posted on behalf of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR):

Back when the world was younger and more uniform, there was one fairly simply defined PET resin used for 2 liter soft drink bottles. PET makes an excellent 2 liter soft drink bottle. Then more packagers wanted to use PET bottles for other products with other needs. The result today is that the PET used for bottles encompasses a range of molecular weights and potential additives.

Thermoformed packaging made from PET may use similar resin as is used for bottles or may use even lower molecular weight (lower IV) plastic. The technical needs for thermoformed packaging are not necessarily the same as for bottle packaging. There is an overlap in IV ranges used for bottles and for thermoformed sheet. Does the potential for IV difference preclude recycling the two forms together? No. End use markets dictate how significant are the differences for recycled plastics from different first uses. Are there additive conflicts? Unlikely, but not assuredly.

So why the reluctance to include thermoforms with PET bottles? There are at least two current reasons. First, the risk of serious contamination is great. A thermoform of non-PET can visually look like PET and be a huge problem. Think inclusion of PVC with the PET. This problem has been a showstopper in North America. In China, hand sorting can overcome the problem if the resin code is accurate. The second problem is a materials handling problem. Crushed thermoforms do not behave like crushed bottles. They do not “fly” the same in autosorting equipment and they do not bale the same. If bales are made too dense, the material does not process as efficiently as it should. Adjusting to the differences takes time and effort.

Does this mean PET thermoforms cannot be recycled? No. Thermoforms are recyclable, once we get through the growing pains of special needs and critical mass. Would sustainability be better served by switching all thermoforms to a different material? Probably not as non-PET, non-polyolefin resins are even more problematic in being accommodated in existing collection and sorting systems.

So why are multiple resins used? In some cases that decision is for aesthetic or performance reasons. Usually, economics dominate. And sometimes tradition keeps on happening. As has been the case for bottles, there does seem to be a gravitating by decision makers to a few resins. The challenge is to develop the infrastructure that allows for efficient handling and sorting to useful resin categories and then to develop markets for those categories.

This response was written by Dave Cornell, Technical Director for APR. For more info on the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, including published Design for Recyclability Guidelines, www.plasticsrecycling.org

Posted November 19, 2009

Radical! Design for Recyclability Guidelines, eh? Sounds right up my alley. Time to do some more research!

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!

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