More to come!!! Random tid bits

December 21, 2010

Wow I knew I hadn’t posted in a bit but almost 10 days YIKES!

Before I delve into the intricacies of the SPP and Walmart SVN updates, I wanted to share with you some random articles I have come across over the last two weeks. This may be old news to you, my packaging and sustainability friends, but nonetheless, I wanted to post it to my blog for future reference.

First, check out this article from PlasticsNews published November 8th:

China issues rules for importing whole PET scrap bottles


Posted November 8, 2010

NINGBO, CHINA (Nov. 8, 2 p.m. ET) — The Chinese government has issued long-awaited rules detailing how companies can import whole PET scrap bottles.

The rules, issued in October and discussed by government officials and companies at a Nov. 4 conference in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, have been closely watched globally, as China is the world’s largest importer of scrap plastics.

China had previously allowed only imports of recycled PET that had already been ground or processed in some way, because government officials said they were concerned about the country in effect importing materials that were not clean and polluted the country.

But with China’s huge demands for new sources of raw materials, particularly in its polyester fiber manufacturing industry, officials had said last year they planned to relax the rules.

The new rules place some limits on who can bring in the material: they require that importers have existing facilities and a current license to import recycled plastic, that they be located in a district designated for recycling and have imported at least 10,000 metric tons of material in each of the last three years.

For companies outside those existing recycling districts, they must have imported at least 30,000 metric tons of materials in each of the last three years. Licenses will be given by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The issue has been closely watched for its potential impact on recycling streams worldwide, and for its potential to increase China’s already significant imports of PET. The country, for example, has taken more than half of the recycled PET bottles collected in the United States for each of the last four years.

One recycling industry executive with factories in both the United States and China said she did not think the changes would lead to significantly more recycled PET exports to China, because the existing supply chains were already well-established, but it would likely raise prices for the bottles and lead to more competition among buyers.

Kathy Xuan, president of Romeoville, Ill.-based Parc Corp., said the changes could mean that Hong Kong, a key intermediary point for shipments, would likely be bypassed in favor of direct imports.

Now, Hong Kong firms will import whole bottles and either reprocess them, or, in something that is not entirely legal but an open secret among recyclers in China, break them into smaller loads for shipment through the porous ports of neighboring Guangdong province.

Xuan, who is also a board member of the Plastic Recycling Committee of the China Plastic Processing Industry Association, said the new rules would likely raise prices for bottles because more suppliers will be competing for them.

The biggest beneficiaries would likely be those in more direct control of bottle collection, such as the materials recovery facilities in the United States, Xuan said, speaking in an interview at the 5th China Plastics Exhibition and Conference, or Replas, held Nov. 4-5 in Ningbo. Replas is sponsored by CPPIA.

Parc also has recycling facilities in Qingdao, Shandong province.

Other Chinese recyclers at the conference also felt new rules would bring more buyers into the market, raise prices at some points in the supply chain and potentially allow end-users like polyester fiber manufacturers more direct access to materials.

If those fiber makers can legally import bottles, they may set up their own recycling operations and start buying directly, rather than working through existing recyclers, said a saleswoman for a Hong Kong-based recycling firm with operations in Guangdong province. She asked to remain anonymous.

Some smaller Chinese recyclers at the conference who process whole PET bottles collected within the country urged government officials to relax the rules for an import license, saying they had additional capacity and could cleanly process more material.

Chinese recyclers also questioned government officials about a requirement in the new rules requiring that only “clean” bottles be imported, saying that it is not possible, outside of a few sources in Japan, to import bottles that are entirely clean. An MEP official suggested that language could be adjusted.

The Chinese government also unveiled rules at the conference to set up a licensing system to allow more direct imports of polycarbonate compact disc scrap.

This is pretty cool because as articulated in my Recycling Report, right now the demand for post consumer PET exceeds the supply 3:1. If we were to limit the amount of PC PET bales exported to international markets each year, more RPET supply would be available, thereby driving down the price.

As an aside, and I don’t know how much validity this has, but I heard that because the cotton crop failed in Asia this year, competition for PET bottle bales collected in North America is very aggressive as this feedstock can be remanufactured into clothing in the absence of cotton. Go figure!

OK…in a previous post when I was deep into my bio-resin investigation I referenced a Pittsburgh life cycle study that compared the environmental performance of bio-resins vs. traditional resins. According to this study, bio-resins consumed more energy, resources, etc. in the production and released more bad stuff into the environment throughout its production than traditional fossil fuel-based resins. I remember commenting that the world of bio-resins is super confusing because every study you read contradicts every other study you read! And to that point, check out this November 24th Plastics News article that contradicts the findings of the Pittsburgh study:

Researcher questions validity of Pittsburgh life cycle study


Posted November 24, 2010

EAST LANSING, MICH. (Nov. 24, 1 p.m. ET) — A highly publicized study sends a misleading message about bioplastics because of what it omitted from their life cycle analysis, several assumptions that are not accurate, and the decision by the research team to mix potential impacts and create a weighted average.

The study, from the University of Pittsburgh, concluded that bioplastics are environmentally more taxing to produce than conventional plastics, in part because of the farming and energy-intense chemical processing needed to produce bioplastics.

“It simply is not credible to come up with one number for a bioplastic evaluation,” by giving each environmental factor an equal weight and adding them together to come up with “an average number,” said Bruce Dale, professor of chemical engineering and associate director of biobased technologies at Michigan State University.

Mixing different impacts of the materials on the environment and public health goes against recommendations for life cycle analysis from the International Standards Organization, Dale said in a Nov. 24 telephone interview.

Specifically, ISO 14044 says that “weighting … shall not be used in any comparison to be disclosed to the public.”

“The conclusions they made are misleading in the sense that you can’t actually even make the comparisons they make,” he said. “That’s like mixing impacts for apples, oranges, pears and bananas. I don’t think the study tells us much about which plastics are better for the environment than others,” Dale said.

“It’s impossible to see if their conclusions” standing up without analyzing whether those conclusions change when the different factors are weighted differently, he said.

Dale said the research team, led by University of Pittsburgh undergraduate student Michaelangelo Tabone, assumed incorrectly that data for polylactic acid could also be used for polyhydroxyalkanoate, and it excluded the actual use and disposable aspects of bioplastics from its analysis.

“The scope of each life cycle assessment was ‘cradle-to-gate,’ [but] including only the impacts resulting from the production of each plastic and not the use or disposal,” the authors said in discussing their report. “The LCAs in this study have a limited scope.

To be comprehensive, the use and end of life should be included in future studies. The exclusion of disposal scenarios affects conclusions regarding biodegradable polymers and commonly recycled plastics.”

The research team admitted that it used “the average impact from the PLA scenarios … as substitutes for PHA’s impacts on human health, respiratory effects, ozone depletion, and ecotoxicity [because] no life cycle inventory data were available for PHA within the ecoinvent database.”

“That was one more arbitrary illogical thing they did. They decided not to study the use and disposal aspects of bioplastics,” Dale said. “Another huge flaw is that there wasn’t any data for PHAs for them to make estimates for the impact categories, so they assumed that PLA data was appropriate for PHA.”

In addition, the research only looked at specific plastics resins, and not products. That is, researchers performed a LCA on each polymer’s preproduction, looking at the environmental and health effects of the use of energy, raw materials, and chemicals to create one ounce of plastic pellets. Then they checked each plastic in its finished form against principles of green design, including biodegradability, energy efficiency, wastefulness, and toxicity.

“They didn’t compare any type of products,” said Steve Davies, global marketing director for NatureWorks LLC in Minnetonka, which manufactures PLA. “They just compared the resins and not specific products. It didn’t look at how a bioplastics product is used and how it is disposed and that’s essential to a life cycle analysis.”

Davies said a second area where the study is “causing confusion and could be damaging” to bioplastics is that there is “no meaningful way to compare one ounce of pellets prior to molding” because it doesn’t take into account the density, thickness or stiffness of the final product.

“You need a comparison based on the functional performance of the product, not just a bucketful of chemicals,” he said.

Third, he took umbrage with how the study combined 10 different environmental and health impact factors to reach “a single, overarching conclusion. They weighed them all equally and just added them up. ISO methodology, in IS0 14044, says you don’t do that.”

The research assessed 10 different impact categories: acidification, carcinogenic human health hazards, ecotoxicity, eutrophication, global warming potential, noncarcinogenic human health hazards, ozone depletion, respiratory effects, smog, and nonrenewable energy use.

“The study doesn’t tell us much about which plastics were better and they have muddied the waters,” Davies said.

Specifically, the research report and news release from the University of Pittsburgh said conventional plastics are “environmentally less taxing to produce,” that “biopolymers are among the more prolific polluters on the path to production” and that bioplastics are “dirtier to produce” than petroleum-derived plastics because “the farming and energy-intense chemical processing needed to produce [bioplastics] can devour energy and dump fertilizers and pesticides into the environment.”

“They have made a mess that others now have to clean up,” said Michigan State bioplastics professor Dale, based in East Lansing, Mich.

The University of Pittsburgh study, conducted with support from the National Science Foundation and released Oct. 21, is scheduled to published in the environmental journal “Environmental Science and Technology.”

And last but not least but a fellow SPC member emailed me the following spec sheet, which lists specs for thermoform bales, after I presented in Atlanta on how we need to create specs for recycling thermoforms if we want to recycle them.

<a href="PET bale specsOK “>Check it out!

We will discuss my questions regarding this spec sheet, the SPP conference and the Walmart SVN, and much much more Monday!

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