Walmart Canada’s PET Subcommittee of The Material Optimization Committee, an Update

February 3, 2011

Greetings world!

We have made it through the BLIZZARD! Man oh man has it been crazy! The night of the storm the wind was swirling so fast you didn’t know from which direction it was coming! AND I witnessed “Thunder Snow,” which is basically a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain! Who knew!?! And my street, which is in the West Loop, just got paved TODAY so I have been stranded here since Tuesday! And the Metra trains, which I normally take to work, were super backed up and basically you couldn’t really get anywhere! It was sort of exciting…

Check out these pictures of Lake Shore Drive, which is a main artery of the city; at 8:00 on Tuesday they shut it down and all these cars were abandoned. Everyone was calling it a “Snowpocalypse!” Ha!

Anyway, for today’s post I thought I would give you an update on the progress of Walmart Canada’s PET Subcommittee of the Material Optimization Committee. For those of you who may be new to my blog, I was invited to be the co-lead of Walmart Canada’s PET Subcommittee in winter 2009, due to my research on recycling clamshells. To download the full research report, which draws on my involvement with this Committee, visit http://www.dordan.com/dordan_sustainability_research.shtml and select “Recycling Report.”

While the “goal” of the Committee was never really carved in stone, I was operating under the assumption that we were working towards achieving zero waste for PET packaging—bottle grade and thermoform grade—in the main Provinces of Canada. And while the approach too was a bit fuzzy, we investigated the plausibility of recycling PET bottles with PET thermoforms. The thinking was that because the PET bottle recycling infrastructure was so sophisticated, it may be easier to piggy back on it then create an entirely new recovery stream. Like the Starbuck’s cup recycling pilot that piggy-backed on the already established corrugate recycling stream, we hoped that if we could demonstrate to reclaimers that PET thermoforms do not contaminate the PET bottle recyclate stream, then we could begin integrating them into the existing PET recycling stream. After all, all the research I had done explained that there was nothing technically problematic about recycling PET bottles with thermoforms, just that it would be expensive to sort the PET thermoforms from other look-a-likes considered a contaminate to the PET bottle stream.

After several meetings, each member was assigned a task, which was “due” in by a specific date. I was instructed to summarize the APR’s Design for Recyclability Guidelines for PET bottles in hopes of using it as a template for creating Design for Recyclability Guidelines for PET thermoforms. After I submitted my summary, which you can find if you search my blog, I didn’t hear from my co-lead for several months. While I called him several times over the summer of 2010, it was conveyed to me that this project was put on the back-burner in favor of other, more important projects.

Yesterday my co-lead called me, however, to discuss the progress being made. This is what he had to say:

The Committee, which now seems entirely staffed by Walmarters, is making progress! The progress explained, however, does not seem that different than the progress reported by NAPCOR in our previous discussions. Like NAPCOR, my co-lead explained that after performing some pilots, it was found that it is easier to recycle PET thermoforms with PET thermoforms then within the PET bottle stream. The reason for this is multi-faceted, but in a nut shell, it is because no one wants to contaminate the PET bottle stream. Therefore, it is easier the develop processes and technologies for recycling PET thermoforms together then figure out what about them is problematic for the bottle stream. After all, a lot of time and investment has been made into the PET bottle recycling stream, thanks to NAPCOR and others, so trying to introduce a new packaging type into this system would probably do more harm than good.

Next it was articulated that for some reason, PET thermoforms manufactured in South America turned the PET recyclate fluorescent, which was making the reprocessing of the thermoform-grade RPET problematic. They are currently investigating why that is…

Lastly, it was reported that some type of adhesive on labels intended for food packaging is tinting the RPET beige during the process of recycling. Apparently Walmart is working with a Label Association trying to figure out what type of adhesive on these labels is contaminating the stream; once known, it was reported that Walmart will begin drafting suggestions for their suppliers in the context of sourcing labels for thermoform food packaging containers.

That’s all for today folks!

See you soon!

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