Day 26: Nov. 21st, 2009

March 11, 2010

Hello world! Sorry I did not post yesterday—I was at home with the flu, boo. It was a rocking 60 degrees in Chicago yesterday, which sort of stinks, because I was at home in bed. I hope all those healthy Chicagoians had a blast, though.

And guess what: Because my blog is actually getting some attention (I have a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Walmart Canada about my efforts) my Superior told me I could resume my clamshell recycling initiative! He had told me to shelve my efforts because he wanted me to focus on things that would help Dordan—and not just the plastic industry in general—which was kind of my approach to finding a way to recycle thermoforms. Even in the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com I emphasized collaboration among the various thermoformers in the Midwest, which, any good business person knows, means working with your competition. Thank goodness for my Superior; without him I would probably completely forget that I was working in a business and not a classroom.

Having received the green light from my Superior, I just scheduled a meeting with our material supplier to determine why she does not like receiving PET bales with RPET/PET thermoforms in the mix.

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

The next day I sent the following email to Robert Carlson of the CA EPA in response to his very insightful email that he sent me:

Hey!

Thanks for the email—super helpful and insightful. I am so glad I met you! I have recently been seeing how ruthless business can be and how everything has an angle or an agenda so it is nice to have a dialogue with someone who does not have any invested interest in the outcome of our conversations. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me as it’s difficult not to get jaded about being committed to sustainability only to discover that most are not and are just looking for a way to make a quick buck and using the sustainability movement to get their foot in the door. I dislike how people use the environment as a form of ethical manipulation for consumers. It is very bizarre but I guess the business world is very different from the academic world. I feel like I have so much to learn!

I actually got a really good response to some of the questions below on greenerpackage.com. I started a discussion about PET recycling and a member of the APR responded with very helpful insight. If you have a sec, you should check it out!

As per your response, you said that in CA, collectors accept mixed plastic 1-7. Do you know where/how these plastics are sorted? Do you know who the buyer is of these mixed plastic materials? I know that there is a market for mixed rigid plastic packaging on the East and West coasts because China buys it to incinerate it for energy. Ohhhh, the irony. At the same time, however, you explained that the end-market for mixed plastic is in plastic lumber operations. How can I find similar applications for mixed plastic in the Midwest?

In regard to your feedback about having consumers separate their packaging materials before leaving the store: All the obstacles you mentioned are being articulated to me by various people within the company: How do you change a consumer behavior? Who would pay to collect and reprocess the material? How would you get retailers on board? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but hopefully if I get an interview with a powerful retailer, perhaps we can make some strides in the right direction…

Do you think their will be any EPR legislation passed on packaging materials in the near future? Perhaps that is what is needed to motivate retailers to reclaim the packaging of their consumer goods…Do you think PVC will be banned in the near future (it would make it easier to implement a plastic packaging recycling program…)?

The SPC doesn’t want to tackle this issue, which is too bad, because I thought collaboration among the various plastic packaging manufacturers would be a great place to start. I don’t know if you have any other suggestions.

I am considering going to Akron, OH on Dec 9th for a technology showing of Polyflow. At the same time, however, my Superior doesn’t know what advantage that would have for us as a for-profit, which stinks. I would really like to speak with reps from Polyflow to understand the logistics of how they power the facility, where the emissions go, if there are any, and what contracts they have with municipalities to provide the raw material they need. In other words, would they work out a contract with municipalities where they would collect all plastic materials that are currently not recycled to be sent to Polyflow for energy recovery? If so, should I develop a dialogue with local municipalities to support this technology?

As per your discussion of the Starbucks pilot recycling program, you mentioned that they recycler they are working with “is known for taking and sorting everything.” Who are these mysterious MRFs? Do you think I could get in contact with them?

I know this is another intense email so if you would prefer to chat about it instead of emailing me back, that would be swell! I know you are busy so take your time as these are all ongoing inquiries and projects. Again, thanks for all your help—I feel like I am learning a ton.

Have a jolly good weekend and if I don’t hear from you, a tasty Turkey day!

P.S. Your “plastics expert” never got back to me.

Best,

Chandler

As those who have been following my blog know, I had taken my clamshell recycling initiative to the SPC hoping they may want to introduce this to the member-companies to see if this project would be of interest to the organization. I had spoken with several SPC project managers about the feasibility of this project, and to my disappointment, they did not feel as though this could be logistically introduced right now: the scope was too large and the approach to vague. The email below was in response to a project manager who had provided me with some information about non-bottle PET recycling.

Hey,

Thanks for this! I am talking with WM, the greenerpackage.com business director, NAPCOR, California Waste Management EPA and SPI to see how PET packaging can be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure. I understand all the challenges that you outlined, but I still feel that we can create a market for recycled PET packaging, within or without the existing PET bottle flake recycling infrastructure. If this is a project of interest for the SPC, I would love to contribute. Otherwise, I will keep the SPC updated on the status of our recycling initiative.

Have a great weekend!

Best,

Chandler

I had sent this email several weeks ago and had not heard back so I assumed, as in the conversations with other representatives from the SPC, that this recycling initiative was not of interest to the SPC at this time.

In the email above where I said that the “plastics expert” had not gotten back to me, I was referring to a previous suggestion of Robert to contact the plastic rep at the CA Board of Integrated Waste Management. I sent the email below to this contact following Robert’s suggestion:

Hey,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a Midwestern based custom design thermoformer of plastic clamshells, blisters, etc. I met Robert in Atlanta for the members-only Sustainable Packaging Coalitions’ fall meeting. Robert and I have been chatting about packaging and waste management ever since.

I am trying to find a way to recycle our RPET packages, either within the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, or by creating a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packages. I have dialogues going with several contacts at WM and it seems as though this initiative is difficult to implement for various reasons.

In regard to creating a new end of life market for mixed rigid plastic packages: This seems more difficult to implement in the near future because the quantity is not there, as is the case with PET bottles. Moreover, because of all the different materials in various kinds of plastic packaging (food, medical, consumer goods), it is difficult to collect enough of any one material to find an end market for it. In a nut shell: the cost to collect, sort and reprocess mixed rigid plastic packages (after PET bottles have been removed for end of life recovery) exceeds the cost of virgin material for plastic packages.

As eluded to by Robert, PVC packages are a problem because they contaminate the PET waste stream. I received a similar perception from the SPC, who explained that plastic packages, even if PET or RPET, are not recycled because of the possibility of having a PVC package get into the bale. What I don’t understand, however, is where are mixed rigid packages even collected for recycling where the PVC contamination would be an issue? My rep at WM explained that buyers of baled PET bottles don’t want plastic packages (clamshells) in the bales because the possibility that one may be PVC. This, however, implies that there could be a market for rigid plastic packages (PET, RPET) outside of the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. Do you know where or by whom mixed rigid plastic packages are collected for recycling?

In regard to integrating our RPET packages into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure: Currently, I have sent out 50 RPET clamshell samples to my contact at WM to run through their optical sorting technology to see if our RPET material is compatible with the PET bottle material (same IVs and what not). If so, we could maybe find a buyer of a mixed bale of PET bottles and RPET plastic packages (non food). After all, we have certification from our suppliers that our RPET has a minimum 70% recycled content (from PET bottles); therefore, one would assume that our material would be very similar to the PET bottle material and as such, have an end market because the quantity is already there, we are just adding to it. Moreover, if we can ensure that our plastic packages are compatible with the PET bottle material, we may be able to have our material supplier buy the mixed baled PET bottles and RPET packages to be reground and sold back to us, thus being closed loop.

As the plastics expert at the California Integrated Waste Management Board, what do you think about the above described scenarios? What do you think is a good approach to finding a way to recycle our RPET plastic packages?

Honestly, any insight you could provide would be very well received; I feel as though I have hit a wall and don’t know where to go from here.

One more thing: What do you think of Pryolysis? Robert explained it as “down cycling,” which implies it is a less superior form of material recovery than recycling. At the same time, however, I have a dialogue going with a rep from Polyflow, which converts mixed flexible and rigid plastic packages into gasoline diesel fuels? I have attached a white page from the rep at Polyflow, which explains its technology. He explains that the cost of processing unwanted mixed plastic package via Polyflow is comparable to the cost of land filling this unwanted material. Please see the attached document, if interested, and let me know if you think this is a viable option for managing plastic packaging waste.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

Chandler

To my disappointment, I never received feedback from this contact.

Tune in Monday to see where this clamshell recycling initiative takes me next!

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