Recap # 1: Toronto

April 15, 2010

Hello world!

It’s been so long since my last post, I almost don’t know where to begin!

Well, Toronto was awesome!

Pretty!

The Canadian retailer has a very nice facility with even nicer employees. The  Committee I will be working with basically looks to increase the recycling rates of several hard-to-place materials; those of specific focus where PS/EPS, PET (thermo-grade and bottle-grade) and bio-based resins.

When the meeting began we went around and introduced ourselves. I was super nervous because, as I am reminded again and again, I am young and considerably new to the “business world.” Being surrounded by really accomplished people in the industry was very intimidating, motivating me to keep my mouth shut, observe and learn.

The pre-reading material for the Committee described the current plastic packaging waste generation in Canada. It is broken down as follows:

  • Plastics represent 7-8% of the residential waste stream;
  • Plastic packaging represents 81% of total plastics found in the residential waste stream;
  • Plastic bottles account for 31% of the total plastics packaging generation. This is followed by:
    • Non-recyclable film at 29%,
    • Recyclable film at 19%,
    • Polystyrene at 10%,
    • Wide mouth tubs at 6%,
    • Other rigid plastics 5%.

WOW I thought to myself as I read over the statistics…only 5% of the 7-8% of plastic packaging that is in the residential waste stream is attributed to thermoforms i.e. other rigid plastics? Is that even enough material to reach the “critical mass” necessary to find an “end-of-life” market for thermoforms? The reason I ask is because if there is not enough quantity of these materials/packages types in Canada to create the critical mass necessary to find a buyer post-consumer, is my clamshell recycling initiative going to DIE? UG, I hope not!

And then consider the following:

I was reading good old Plastics News and came across an article about a new plastics recovery plant opening later this year in England, which looks to reprocess plastic from automotive shredder residue.

Author Esposito writes, “The slow journey of recycling in the U.S. is a bit frustrating…since the country generates THE MOST ELECTRONIC WASTE IN THE WORLD—more than 21 million pounds per year.”

Founder and President of this recovery facility explains: “One of the issues in the U.S. is that there’s no electronic collection infrastructure…And some that we do gather is sold overseas. The U.S. has more mines of plastic than any other country—it’s amazing that we don’t use it” (Michael Biddle, MBA Polymers Inc.).

For the full article, please visit: http://plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=10031501901&q=MBA+moves+toward+being+global+recycler.

Several things jumped out at me while reading this article: First, is how misplaced the current anxiety of waste management is on single-use disposable packaging when trendy consumer electronics go unnoticed, although from a pure quantity standpoint, they blow plastic packaging out of the water in the context of waste generation. I am not trying to point the finger at any industry, product, or what not; what I am trying to imply, although not very discreetly, is that plastic packaging is being targeted as a manifestation of our over-consumptive society while other products, specifically, consumer electronics, are marketed as innovative, young, and anything but environmentally malevolent. Hmmmm…

So this got me a’thinkin…I am sorry to run on this tangent but a girl has got to do what I girl has got to do:

Perhaps the best way to go about this recycling initiative is to work with a large consumer electronics company that buys a lot of clamshell packaging. If they have implemented any product stewardship initiatives, like Dell ink with their shipping envelopes, then perhaps they would be interested in working with their packaging suppliers to “close the loop,” per se.

I envision the relationship like this:

Company X makes a ton of cell phones for the American market; they buy Y amount of clamshells yearly, all of which end up in a landfill. Because of the increased pressure on producers to consider the end-of-life management of their products/packages, perhaps we could develop a partnership where Dordan would provide all the clamshell packages to company X under the agreement that if returned to our facility, we would regrind them and reprocess them into next generation clamshells. The only logistical problems would be enticing the consumer to bring the packages back to a store or drop-off location (perhaps company X could offer a point-rewarding system similar to Recycle Bank) and then funding the shipment back to our plant…

So, if any CEOs of super-powerful consumer electronic companies are reading this blog, we should get lunch!

Ha!

Ok, where was I before my thought-baby…OH the Committee in Ontario:   

Below are my notes from the meeting. Enjoy!

  • Background: The Committee focuses on increasing the recovery rates of several hard-to-place materials in Canada. In Canada, Stewardship Ontario requires “producers” to fund 50% of the packaging waste management of the products they sell. The Committee is the first time a powerful retailer has gathered people from along the supply chain to honestly investigate the obstacles keeping some materials out of the recovery stream: This retailer has the power to influence the packaging sold in Canada via purchasing power.
  • We spent a lot of time discussing the “scope” of the Committee’s goals (increase diversion rate to X% by Y date):
    • All of Canada?
    • Province-specific?
    • Retailer in-house waste only?
    • This retailer has over an 80% waste diversion rate of in-house waste management. This ROCKS!
    • Post-consumer, post-industrial, or both?
  • Determined scope/goal:
    • Scope: RESIDENTIAL and NATIONAL
    • Goal: Harmonize products on shelf with recovery infrastructure
  • Material 1, PS:
    • PS is 98% air 2% resinàbecause of its density there is no economical way to COLLECT the material for recovery (shipping a truck of air exceeds value of resin).
    • Demand is for DENSIFIED PS.
    • Purchase a densifier for each municipality
      • Cold densifier: Don’t need an air omissions certificate;
      • Thermal densifer: Do need an air omissions certificate;
    • Drawbacks: Expensive and pay back depends on QUANITY.
  • Material 2, PET
    •  “Thermoformers can use bottle-grade PET but bottles can NOT use thermo-grade PET.”
      • Why: Different IV’s and fear of contamination
        • Carbonated soda drinks use one IV, water bottles use another, thermos use something else, etc. AND one PVC clam in a bale of bottle-grade PET contaminates the entire feedstock for reprocessing.
      • Also, a chicken and egg syndromeàthere is no end-market for thermo-grade PET because the quantity isn’t there; but the quantity isn’t there because it is not collected because there is no end-market.
      • Solution: Identify end market FIRST; collect thermoforms and conduct pilot to determine the quality of mixed material.
      • Mimic the corrugated recovery specs: Corrugated council conducted testing on alternatives to OCC compliance and determined that 21 alternatives to corrugated can be recycled along with corrugated.

We actually didn’t spend much time on bio-based resins, aside from discussing the appropriate vernacular for describing this new family of agriculturally-based resins. For the record, the proper language is “bio-based” polymers as cellulous is a bio polymer of a different sort and therefore the distinction should be advocated to eliminate confusion in the market. Good times.                                                                           

I met two girls from the Ministry of the Environment; they were super cool and gave me a ride back to the city, thereby saving me some 90 odd dollars. They were both policy girls, which means they spend a lot of time on issues of waste management and product stewardship. We hit it off because shared interests and because they sat next to me and I am a chatty Cathy, especially when nervous and out of my element.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow’s post will describe my experiences at the Walmart Expo in Arkansas.

Thanks for listening! And thanks Canada!

Bye Bye!

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