All sorts of stuff

May 27, 2010

For those of you who have been following my blog, you are aware that our clamshell recycling initiative has sort of come to a stand still:

We determined why PET thermoforms are not recycled (lack of investment in the infrastructure due to quantity, quality, supply and demand issues) and the problems with including RPET thermoforms in PET bottle bales (different IVs, melting points, fear of contamination, etc.) While we did determine that our RPET clams and PET bottles are “read” the same via an optical sorter, when the mixed bales of RPET thermos and PET bottles make it to the processor, the thermos are thrown out and not recycled along with the PET bottles.

Consider the following article published in PlasticsNews, which does an amazing job summarizing all my research to date:

NAPCOR puts thermoformed PET on docket

By Mike Verespej

Posted May 24, 2010

Although blow molded PET and high density polyethylene bottles get most of the plastics recycling attention, a potentially large market looms on the horizon, presenting an opportunity and a challenge for the recycling industry — thermoformed PET containers.

In 2008, 1.4 billion pounds of thermoformed PET packaging was produced in the U.S and Canada. But by 2011, that market could grow to be one-half the size of the PET bottle market, which is the largest category of recycled plastic resin, said Mike Schedler, technical director for the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif.

“The market is growing rapidly because of natural growth and conversion of products from polystyrene and PVC,” said NAPCOR’s Schedler.

But growth in thermoformed PET packaging and pent-up demand for recycled PET in those packages doesn’t automatically translate into a waste stream that can be turned into an end-market opportunity, he said. “The market is not the issue. The issue is moving it through the reclamation system.”

For the past 18 months, NAPCOR’s Thermoforming Council has been working with recyclers and material recovery facilities in the U.S. and Canada to address an array of technical issues, as well as difficulties presented by a huge variety of sizes and shapes of clamshells, boxes, trays, cups and lids.

Schedler said the council has three main objectives in regard to thermoformed PET.

“We have to remove the obstacles and create an infrastructure that will give PET thermoformed packages the same recycling opportunities as PET bottles,” he said. “And we have to do it in a way that is acceptable to existing collection systems and processes, and without jeopardizing the PET bottle recycling stream.”

Last, he said, “We have to support PET packages and do the things we did in the late 1980s to facilitate recycling of PET bottles.”

The council also is conducting a thermoformed packaging compatibility study to evaluate different streams of packaging and how well they meet industry protocols for fiber, sheet and bottles applications that have been developed by the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

Specifically, the study is looking at dedicated thermoformed packaging bales manually removed from MRFs without auto-sort capabilities, mixed bales of PET bottles and PET thermoformed packages at MRFs with auto-sorting equipment, and mixed rigid plastic bales.

“We will convey that data and our observations to PET reclaimers,” Schedler said.

A fourth possible stream — cups from arenas and stadiums with PET recycling programs — will be addressed later.

“I could see separate recycling programs within stadiums for cups, and, to a certain degree, clamshells,” he said. “But I don’t see that happening at MRFs with auto-sort equipment.”

The industry is working to overcome technical hurdles that currently keep thermoformed PET packages from being recycled in tandem with bottles. Among them:

* Look-alike plastics like oriented polystyrene, polylactic acid and PVC containers that are difficult to sort from thermoformed PET packaging, either manually or in auto-sorting operations.

* Adhesives used on pressure-sensitive paper labels are different from those used on PET bottles and could cause yellowing.

* Some direct printing.

* Different additives than in PET bottles.

* Flake geometry concerns.

* Wide variability in intrinsic viscosity.

“We understand what it takes to do this work and we are rolling up our sleeves to do it,” Schedler said. “We want to make PET thermoformed packaging recycling a reality and to position PET as the environmentally preferred package of choice.”

Copyright 2010 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In my last post, I discussed a company that is going to buy balled PET bottles and PET/RPET thermoforms from MRFs for reprocessing into the next generation of thermoforms. While I obviously have some questions and concerns in regard to the logistics of this approach, I feel like this is a step in the right direction. However, I feel that for Dordan, and the plastics industry in general, it is important to work on the residential recycling infrastructure level, as that is what the consumer has access to and informs his/her understanding of the “sustainability” of a given material. That being said, while a closed-loop system is awesome and a direction we would like to move, I will be focusing more on integrating our packages into the American recycling infrastructure in general because I really think that would resonate with consumers and the larger public. Additionally, the work I am doing with Walmart-Canada works on the residential level, as opposed to the closed-loop system level. If they can figure out a way to recycle PET thermoforms with or in addition to PET bottles, then hopefully, so can we.

Today I had a phone interview with a contact from StewardEdge, which is an organization in Canada that has their hands in issues pertaining to extended producer responsibility. This contact, however, works with Stewardship Ontario to develop markets for plastic post consumer. Our conversation today ROCKED because not only did he confirm my understanding of recycling, but he provided validation that our approach is one of relevance and that our goals are represented by our Canadian neighbors. So I am not alone after all, hurray!

Anyway, he explained that unlike the States, that which is driving recycling in Canada is Stewardship Ontario, which is an organization like Fost Plus in Belguim, which takes money from industry to manage the cost of said industry’s packaging waste. In other words, because there is legislation on the books in Canada that REQUIRES producers to fund the recovery of their packaging post-consumer, organizations like Fost Plus in Belgium and Stewardship Ontario in Canada developed to help producers meet said requirements.

Let me back up. In 2002 Canada’s Waste Diversion Act mandated that industry has to pay for 50% of the net cost for municipalities to run their Blue Box program. The Blue Box program is similar to curb side recycling in the States; however, they encourage the recycling of a lot more materials than is encouraged in the States.

The “designated” material types accepted for recycling via the Blue Box Program are listed here:  http://www.stewardshipontario.ca/bluebox/pdf/materialcategories.pdf.

Anyway, Stewardship Ontario was set up specifically to collect that money from industry and give it to the municipalities to manage packaging waste.

There are different fees for different materials, depending on the ease of recovering said material post-consumer. In other words, the harder a package is to recycle or recover, the higher the associated fee will be.

The fees change every year; here’s the latest: http://www.stewardshipontario.ca/bluebox/fees/fees_rates.htm.

For example, if you sold a polystyrene container into the Canadian market, you would be required to pay 24.65 cents per kg. These are real costs that affect the entire supply chain. PS is expensive because it is so lightweight (EPS is 98% air, 2% resin) there is no economical way to collect it for reprossessing (think shipping…); that is why EPS is one of the materials of focus for the MOC, because economically it is impossible to recycle…

Wow have I rambled. Sorry for the all over nature of this post; I have a point, I swear!

Tune in Tuesday (sisters taking a vacation!!!) to figure out where I am going with this and what needs to happen in the States to integrate thermoforms into the existing recycling infrastructure.

Tootles!

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