Playing catch up

November 22, 2010

Hello and happy Monday funday!

Boy howdy do we have lots to talk about!

Drum roll please….I FINALLY finished my presentation on my Recycling Report for Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 in Atlanta, December 8th and 9th! I had no idea how hard it would be to convert a 10 page report into a half an hour presentation while not boring the audience to death with all the technicalities that is recycling. It sort of reminded me of when I was invited to present my Senior Thesis to a class of freshmen at DePaul—not that the audience of this Conference is comparable to college freshmen—but insofar as there is way too much to explain in the confines of a half an hour. Before I could even begin talking about the state of recycling clamshells in America, I had to set up a foundation for understanding the economics of recycling in general, including the “process” of recycling from collection through reprocessing/remanufacturing. All I know is that I have over 80 slides, which means I have to go through almost 4 slides a minute. I talk fast, but that is super fast…

Here is the structure of my presentation:

Introduction: What is “recyclable,” why, and why we care
Part 1: Explain the economics of recycling packaging in America with reference to abstract concepts
Part 2: Contextualize said concepts by explaining them in tandem with the state of recycling thermoform packaging in America:
Section 1: Supply and Demand Considerations
Section 2: Sortation Considerations
Section 3 Specs and Baling Considerations
Section 4: Contamination Considerations
Part 3: Discuss where we should go from here to work towards recycling thermoforms.
Conclusion: Discuss what progress is being made in recycling thermoforms with reference to NAPCOR

While normally I would post my presentation to my blog for your viewing pleasure, I am going to wait until after my presentation because I think it gives the content a sense of drama! And, who doesn’t like creating drama via anticipation?

That which was also difficult to convey in my presentation was the “why” component: that is, why do we care about recycling in general, and recycling thermoforms in particular? After all, while I am interested in recycling because I am interested in just about anything (ahem, degree in Religious Ethics anyone?), the audience for this conference will be anyone from brand owners to material suppliers; each of which, has different motivations for attending the conference. Therefore, while creating the content for this presentation, I thought it was important to situate recycling within the larger picture i.e. what does this do for me as a packaging professional? Granted I think recycling in and of itself is the “right thing to do” because it conserves our natural resources and therefore should be discussed in an open forum, most “business people” are more concerned about the bottom line than saving the planet. SOOOO this is what I came up with:

We care about recycling packaging because…

• Introduction of Walmart Packaging Scorecard;
• Increase demand for sustainable packaging and products by CPGs/retailers/consumers;
• Increased awareness that a products’/packages’ end of life management is crucial to its “sustainability.”
• Increased demand for PC content in packaging and products by CPGs and retailers.
• Advances in Extended Producer Responsibility.
• And, an increased understanding that our Earth’s resources are finite.

Obviously for each point I expand; hence, the point of a “presentation.”

I then talk about the “green consumer” and reference various market research that shows that if deciding between competing brands/products, consumers are more likely to buy the “green” product than the product not touting any environmental benefit (assuming same price, performance and quality).

Then I move onto a quick discussion of why we care about recycling thermoforms specifically, quoting NAPCOR’s 2009 Report on Post Consumer PET Container Recycling:

The dramatic growth in PET thermoformed packaging has resulted in pressures… for a recycling end-of-life option. Although additional post-consumer RPET supply is arguably the most critical issue facing the industry, a variety of technical issues have prevented existing PET bottle reclaimers from including PET thermoforms in the bottle stream. As a result, the potential value of this growing PET packaging segment is not being successfully realized.

By emphasizing NAPCOR’s opinion that additional PC PET supply is a critical issue facing the industry, I imply that only by adding PET thermoforms into the PET recycling stream, either within the PET bottle stream or a PET thermoform only stream, can said demand be met. In other words: recycling thermoforms will provide additional PC PET material for application in a multitude of end markets, be it bottles, thermoforms, or other.

Are you convinced that recycling is the way to go?!? Perhaps this will persuade you.

I plan to present my presentation to my Dordan colleagues sometime next week to get their feedback…my main concerns is that there is too much content and not enough time to get though it all…more details to come!

Shall we move on to a brief recap of Pack Expo, as I have yet to give you any feedback from this insanely huge event?

Pack Expo 2010 was a roaring success: Dordan had more direct traffic (people looking for Dordan as opposed to just wandering by) than any other year we exhibited past! Our booth looked super great and our Bio Resin Show N Tell and COMPASS tutorials generated a lot of interest among the Show attendees.

Our Bio Resins Show N Tell definitely got the most attention, as Show attendees explained how nice it was to have objective research accompany the latest alternative resins, which Dordan converted via thermoforming for seeing and feeling pleasure. I was happy to hear that like Dordan, the onslaught of environmental marketing claims in the context of bio based/biodegradable/compostable resins was confusing the heck out of packaging professionals, as every study you read contradicts the last study published. After the Show, Dordan was contacted by a ton of Show attendees, who all requested the information displayed alongside our Bio Resin Show N Tell. Due to Dordan’s ethic of corporate transparency, we were thrilled to share our research with the interested parties. Hopefully interest like this will move our industry in the right direction, away from confusing environmental claims and towards a more qualified understanding of packaging and sustainability.

AND, check out this special picture of me and my brother/Dordan Sales Manager Aric at CardPak’s Sustainability Dinner at the Adler Planetarium during Pack Expo:

Good times.

This is sort of random but one of my old college professors, with whom I still speak, was featured on NPR Friday. His interview was really cool, and while on the NPR site, I found a session within the “Environment” heading that dealt specifically with the plastic vs. paper debate.

Check it out here.

That which I found the most interesting, however, was around the 15 minute mark when Jane Bickerstaffe of INCPEN explains how packaging has become the scapegoat for the perceived problems with how humans relate to our natural environment. She explains…

We did some research looking at the average household energy use for everything:

81% of energy is consumed by the products and food we buy, central heating and hot water in homes, and private transport. Packaging, however, accounts for just 3% of our energy expenditures.

She concludes:

People need to get a sense of perceptive…they drive their SUVs to the grocery store and then stand there agonizing over whether to choose paper or plastic; it’s actually a tiny tiny impact.

Right on! Granted the way in which we produce and consume things can always become more “sustainable,” the bag and bottle bans make my head hurt because the concern is so misplaced when you are wearing Gucci shoes manufactured by children in Indonesia. Alright, now I am getting a little melodramatic, but you get the idea, right? And speaking of overseas manufacturing, I just bought this book. My next research project is on the ethics of sourcing product/packaging from China. Exciting!

And how ironic, Dordan CEO says the EXACT same thing in our recently published interview in PlasticsNews.

Hurray for PlasticsNews!

Alright, I got to go: I am on a deadline to research and write a white paper providing evidence that “seeing it sells it” i.e. market research demonstrating that consumers’ identification of the product via transparent packaging results in higher sales. While all the sustainability research in the context of paper vs. plastic I have complied is helpful (see this), Dordan Sales Force tell me again and again that regardless of the environmental profiles of the different packaging materials, packaging buyers want the packaging medium that will sell the product. Period. Time to sales savvy marketing piece to our bag of tricks! Wish me luck!

But I will leave you with this informative article about recycled plastic markets from Recycling Today. Enjoy!

Happy Friday! This Saturday is my sister’s bachelorette party at Cuvee in Chicago, which is a super posh champagne lounge. I will let you know if I see any celebrities!

So I FINALLY finished my work on PET recycling for a Canadian retailer, which is good, as I leave on Tuesday!

Check it out! It’s sort of a lot, and it’s really detailed, so sorry if I bore you! Oh, and it’s broken into a couple different sections:

  1. Summary of a super huge document titled, “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Recycling.”
  2. Supply and demand of PET bottles post consumer, North American context.
  3. Supply and demand of PET thermoforms post consumer, North American context.
  4. Interview with StewardEdge and Stewardship Ontario’s Plastics Market Developer.
  5. Case studies of PET recycling, bottle to bottle, bottle to thermo, and thermo to bottle.

Seriously, this is the post of all posts! And when I copied and pasted my report into the Blog software, it messed up my outline–sorry!

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Summary of “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Plastic Recycling”

  1. PET recycling, history, American context:
    1. St. Jude, 1976—recycled PET bottles into plastic strapping and paint brush bristles.
    2. St. Jude, 1997—first to repelletize PCR PET plastic, which is important for PET remanufacturing companies.
    3. Wellman, Inc., 1978— began recycling PET bottles into a fiber product that was suitable for both carpet and fiber applications.

                                                               i.      Wellman continued to increase its use of recycled PET and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s increased their processing capacity and consequentially the market demand for post-consumer PET.

                                                             ii.      1993—first textile fiber manufactured from 100% RPET.

  1. Today, St. Jude and Wellman are joined by a dozen other companies, whose combined PET recycling processing capacity produces over ½ billion pounds of recycled PET resin annually.
  2. With advances in PET recycling technology, it is now possible to ‘close the loop’ by recycling bottles back into bottles, even in some food-contact packaging.

                                                               i.      There are three generic types of food-contact packaging applications/processes for which the use of PCR PET has been issued letters of non-objection (from the FDA, certifying applicability for direct-food content).

  1. Depolymerization processes that chemically break down PET plastic into its component chemicals, which are then repolymerized and made into new PET food contact packages;
  2. Multi-layer or laminated food-contact containers where PCR PET is combined with a virgin PET layer;
  3. And, full-contact food packaging containers where 100% PCR PET is used.
  4. Food-contact packaging applications are one of the largest uses of PET plastic resin in the United States. The ability to recycle these food-contact packages back into new PET food-contact packages will help ensure the long-term viability of PET plastic recycling and the ability to avoid the use of virgin PET in food contact packaging manufacturing.
  5. How PET bottles get recycled, American context
    1. Collection:

                                                               i.      Returnable Container Legislation or Bottle Bills, which establish redemption value on non-alcoholic beverage containers. These containers, when returned by the consumer for the redemption value, facilitate recycling by aggregating large quantities of recyclable materials at beverage retailers and wholesalers to be collected by recyclers, while providing the consumer with an economic incentive to return the PET bottles and containers. Currently, 10 States have enacted some form of this legislation.

                                                             ii.      Curb-side collection: Generally the most convenient for community residents to participate in and yield high recovery rates as a result.

  1. Communities that provide curb-side recycling generally request residents to separate the designated recyclables from their household garbage and place them into special recepticles, which are then set at curb for collection by municipal or municipal-contracted crews.
  2. Some communities allow their residents to comingle recyclables, that is, mix recyclable materials of different kinds into the same receptacle.
  3. Others require some level of material segregation, known as “source separation.”
  4. Some curbside recycling collection programs use compaction vehicles to collect designated recyclables. While this will yield greater amounts of material on a collection route than collecting materials loose and placing them in non-compaction vehicles, there is a greater possibility of introducing contaminants to the PET recycling process.

                                                            iii.      Drop-off recycling: Containers for designated recyclable materials are placed at central collections locations throughout the community, such as parking lots, churches, schools, etc. Residents are requested to deliver their recyclables to the drop-off location, where recyclables are separated my material type into their respective collection containers. Drop-off centers require much less investment to establish he curbside program, yet do not offer the convenience of curbside collection.

                                                           iv.      Buy-back centers: Most buy-back centers are operated by private companies; however, communities provide incentives through legislation or grants and loan programs that can assist in the establishment of buy-back centers for their residents. Buy-back centers pay consumers for recyclable materials that are brought to them. Most have purchasing specifications that require consumers to source separate recyclable material brought for sale. These specs reduce contamination and allow the buy-back center to immediately begin processing the recyclables they purchase, while providing consumers with an economic incentive to comply with the specs.

  1. How PET bottles are sorted and prepared for sale:

                                                               i.      After collection, each subsequent step in the recycling process adds value to the PC PET and puts it into marketable form for other processors and end users that will use them to manufacture new products.

                                                             ii.      The amount and type of sorting and processing required will depend upon purchaser specifications and the extent to which consumers separate recyclable materials of different types and remove contaminates.

                                                            iii.      Collected PET bottles are delivered to a MRF or a plastic intermediate processing facility (IPC) to begin the recycling process. The value of the PC PET and its ability to be economically manufactured into new products is dependent on the QUALITY of the material as it passes through the recycling process.

                                                           iv.      MRFS accept commingled curbside collected recyclables and separate them into their respective material categories. PET bottles are separated from other recyclables and baled for sale to IPC, plastic recycling facilities, or reclaimers. There are two types of sorting systems used at plastics recycling facilities:

  1. Manual sorting systems= rely on plant personnel who visibly identify and physically sort plastic bottles traveling over a conveyor belt system.
    1. Studies indicate that trained inspectors are capable of sorting 500 to 600 pounds of PET per hour and are more than 80% effective at identifying and removing PVC from the line.
    2. The use of ultraviolet light helps manual sorting systems remove PVC (yellow or green when exposed to UV) from PET (blue when exposed to UV).
    3. Manual sorting systems are generally one of two types—positive or negative sort systems.

                                                                                                                                                                                      i.      Positive= PET bottles are removed from a stream of plastic containers being carried over a conveyor system.

  1. When PET bottles are removed in a positive sort, there are either fed directly into a granulator or onto a second conveyor system that feeds into a granulator.
  2. Positive sort systems are considered best in generating highest quality materials.
  3. However, they may not always result in the most efficient system as positive sorts are generally more time consuming than negative sorts.

                                                                                                                                                                                  ii.      Negative= PET bottles are left on the conveyor system and unwanted materials are removed from the conveyor line.

  1. Negative sort systems work well if materials have been “presorted” into specific categories.
  2. The choice between positive and negative sort systems will depend on program budget and the supply characteristics of the incoming material.
  3. Automated sorting systems= employ a detection, or combination of collection systems, that analyze one or more properties of the plastic bottles passing through and automatically sorts these plastic into several categories, either by resin type, color, or both.
    1. Auto-sort systems are increasingly used at the intermediate processing level and even more extensively by reclaimers and end-users to obtain contaminant free streams of PET bottles for subsequent processing.
    2. Most auto-sort technologies employ some type of detection signal that can differentiate plastic bottles based on chemical or physical characteristics when that signal is detected and analyzed by a sensor.
    3. There are three different types of detection systems:

                                                                                                                                                                                     i.      Optical sorting systems= use visible light to separate plastic bottles by color. This is called near infrared (NIR).

  1. NIR detection signals pass completely through the scanned plastic bottle and can detect bottles that are shielded by other bottles when passing over the sensor.
  2. An advantage to NIR is their ability to detect multi-layer and composite container structures. Some of these pose contamination problems in the PET recycling process and are difficult to identify.
  3. NIR signals can scatter inside flattened bottles, which prevents the signal from being read by the sensor, causing the container to be ejected.

                                                                                                                                                                                    ii.      Transmission technologies= a signal passes directly through the bottle and is read by a sensor on the other side of the bottle; each plastic resin has a characteristic response to the signal based on its unique chemical composition. This is called X-ray transmission (XRT).

  1. Ignores labels and other surface contaminants that can lead to false readings with other detection systems.
  2. Also can read the chemical content of bottles when stuck together when bales are packed too densely.
  3. Drawback= flattened bottles can scatter the detection beam, which prevents the sensor from getting a reading on the other side.

                                                                                                                                                                                iii.      Surface scanning devices= the signals bounce off the surface of the bottle and are reflected back to the sensor for identification; each plastic resin has its own response. When a sensor detects what it is looking for, it will generally activate an air jet that will eject or direct the item it has positively identified. This is called X-ray fluorescence (XRF).

  1. Limitation= all surface scanning technologies will not detect a PVC bottle that is shielded from the signal by another bottle; therefore, it will not detect a PVC bottle that is stick to a PET bottle as it passes over the sensor.
  2. Also, surface scanning signals might be affected by surface contaminates like labels and caps and make cause PET bottles to be incorrectly ejected.
  3. The current state-of-the-art in auto-sort technology combines several types of sensors to provide multiple sorting functions for streams of commingled plastic resin types.

                                                             v.      PET bottles are sorted from other plastic containers at PRFs and, in most cases, further processed by color and sorting and granulating PET for shipment to reclaimers as “dirty” regrind.

  1. Dirty regrind from PRFs is then sent to reclaimers that process PC PET plastic into a form that can be used by converters.
  2. Converters process the recycled PET into a commodity-grade form that can be used by end-users to manufacture new products.
  3. At a reclaiming facility, the dirty flake passes through a series of sorting and cleaning stages to separate PET from other materials that may be contained on the bottle or from other contaminants that may be present.
    1. First, regrind material is passed through an “air classifier,” which removes materials lighter than PET such as plastic or paper labels and “fines” –very small PET particle fragments that are produced during granulating.
    2. The flakes are then washed with a special detergent in a “scrubber.” This step removes food residue that might remain on the inside surface of the PET bottles, glue that is used to adhere labels to the PET bottles, and any dirt.
    3. Next, the flakes pass through what is known as a “float/sink” classifier. During this process, PET flakes, which are heavier than water, sink in the classifier, while base cups made from HDPE and caps and rings made from PP, both of which are lighter than water, float to the top.
    4. The ability of the float/sink stage to yield pure PET flake is dependent upon the absence of any other plastic that might also be heavier than water and sink with PET.
    5. After they are dried, the PET flakes pass through what is known as an electrostatic separator, which produces a magnetic field to separate PET flake from any aluminum that may be present.
    6. Some reclaimers use x-ray separation devices for PVC removal, or optical sorting devices to remove other contaminants.
    7. The purity level to which PET flakes are processed depends on the end-use application for which they are intended.
    8. Once these processing steps have been completed, the PET plastic is now in a form known as “clean flake.” In some cases, reclaimers will further process the clean flake in a “repelletizing stage,” which turns the flake to pellet.

                                                           vi.      Clean flake/pellets are sold to the remanufacturer.

  1. Contamination issues, overview:
    1. Contamination reduces the value of recyclable PET by hindering processing and causing unproductive downtime and clean up expenses for PET processors, reclaimers and end-users.
    2. PET bottles can get confused with food and liquid containers that are made from other plastic resins that post major contamination problems for the PET recycling process.
    3. Some PET bottles are manufactured with barrier resins, closures, labels, safety seals, or contain product residues that can introduce incompatible materials than contaminate PET recycling process.
    4. Many materials that pose contamination problems for PET recycling are contained on the PET bottle itself. Therefore, there are a number of design elements that can be implemented that significantly increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of the PET recycling process. These design for recycling efforts have been aimed at reducing the impact of such materials as labels, the adhesives used to affix them and the inks used to print them.

IV.  PVC contamination:

  1. The primary contaminate to the PET recycling process is PVC; it can form acids when mixed with PET during processing. These acids break down the physical and chemical structure of PET, causing it to turn yellow and brittle. This will render the material inacceptable for many high-value end use applications. There are four primary sources of PVC contaminates that can enter the PET recycling process:

                                                               i.      PVC look-alikes= PVC bottles that resemble PET bottles.

                                                             ii.      PVC safety seals that are used on certain containers, like mouthwash.

                                                            iii.      PVC liners found inside some caps and closures.

                                                           iv.      PVC labels that are affixed to some PET containers.

  1. The sensitivity of PET to PVC contamination is based on the ultimate end-use application for which the recycled PET is intended, but in general the tolerance for PVC contamination is extremely low. The negative impacts of PVC contamination can occur with concentrations as low as 50 parts per million.
  2. Other resins:
    1. The presence of resins other than PET may also post problems with processing and remanufacturing PET.
    2. The presence of closures may introduce plastics other than PVC that may contaminate the PET recycling process or add separation costs. In addition, some closures are made from aluminum, which can pose problems for some PET reclaimers and end-users or increase cleaning costs.
    3. There are also a growing number of PET containers and other PET packaging materials which are marked with the SPI # 1 resin ID code that pose a number of problems to PET reclaimers. In some cases these containers are manufactured with modified PET plastic resins or in laminated forms that contain barrier resins that are either incompatible with the recycling of “bottle grade” PET plastic resin, or are difficult to distinguish from acceptable materials with current sorting technology.
    4. These modified PET resins may have physical or chemical properties that make them incompatible with ‘bottle grade’ PET resin during the recycling process. However, very few of these modified PET resins are used to manufacture bottles with screw-neck tops. This is why many recycling programs that collect PET plastic will only requires PET bottles with screw-necks.

                                                               i.      PET Microwave trays= these are manufactured from crystallized PET, known as CPET, and are incompatible with bottle grade PET resin and must be excluded.

                                                             ii.      PET drinking glasses, “Clamshells” and “Blister packs”= drinking glasses are manufactured from APET and not compatible with PET bottle recycling stream; PET clamshells and PET blister packs, while TECHNICALLY COMPATIBLE with the recycling of bottle-grade PET, run into “look-alike” issues with other clamshells and blisters that are not made from PET.

                                                            iii.      PET laundry scoops= while technically it is possible to recycle PETE scoops with PET bottles if they are clear or transparent green, it is best to exclude them as many laundry scoops are opaque and may introduce contaminates due to pigmentation.

                                                           iv.      PERG= many custom PET bottles are now manufactured from PETG. PETG containers are manufactured differently than other PET containers and are generally known s extrusion-blown containers. PETG has a much lower melting point than bottle grade PET resin and can cause a number of technical and operating problems to PET reclaimers.

                                                             v.      Multi layer PET containers= an increasing number of PET containers are manufactured with multi-layer construction. Some of these containers are manufactured with a barrier resin known as ethyl vinyl alcohol (EVOH). The presence of EVOH is a problem for reclaimers as it effects the clarity of the finished product or can cause a change to the intrinsic viscosity (IV) of the recycled PET that renders it unacceptable for certain end-use applications. Like PETG, it is difficult to distinguish a multi-layer PET container from a single-layer PET container.

                                                           vi.      Colored PET= PET reclaimers and end users are generally only interested in clear and transparent green containers, as they have the best end-use applicability.

                                                          vii.      Labels= Some PET containers, including coffee containers, liquor bottles and mustard jars, may contain metalized labels that pose problems for some reclaimers.

VI.  Misc. considerations:

  1. Bale specifications= the lack of standardization and the resulting variability of the quality and content of baled post-consumer PET bottles adds economic costs to and limits the efficiency of the PET recycling process.
  2. Granulating= properly designed and maintained PET granulating systems will optimize quality, production efficiency and throughput, and general workplace safety.
  3. Dirty regrind specs: the quality requirements for PET regrind are far more demanding than for baled PET. And, the allowable levels of contamination in PET regrind are in the parts per million range. The quality of PET regrind is crucial to the efficiency and economics of subsequent PET recycling processing stages. Producing dirty regrind that meets the specific specifications will ensure the ability to market granulated PET.
  4. Baled PET= Properly stored bales help maintain the quality of prepared PC PET plastics prior to sale.
  5. PET regrind (dirty flake)= Properly stored boxes of PET regrind help maintain the quality of prepared PC PET regrind prior to sale and further processing and limit the economic losses associated with improper storage.
  6. Shipping/Truck loading, Receiving and Weight Determination= Properly loaded trucks of PET bales and boxes of PET regrind can ensure regulatory compliance with maximum legal shipping weights, lessen the possibility of contamination, and prevent costly material losses and clean-up expenses due to improper loading. Proper paperwork and weight verification for shipments can help reduce disputes over material quality or quantity.
  7. Generic end-use categories for recycled PET:
    1. Packaging applications, such as new bottles;

                                                               i.      This is one of the highest value end-uses for recycled PET

  1. Sheet and film applications, including thermoforming applications;
  2. Strapping;
  3. Engineered resins application (such as reinforced components for automobiles);
  4. And, fiber applications (such as carpets, fabrics, and fiberfill).
  5. Examples include:

                                                               i.      Belts, blankets, boat hulls, business cards, caps, car parts, carpets, egg cartons, furniture, insulation, landfill liners, overhead transparencies, paint brush bristles, pillows, polyester fabric for upholstery and clothes, recycling bins, sails, strapping, stuffing for winter jackets/sleeping bags/quilts, tennis ball cans, twine, etc.

  1. How to increase the recycling of PET bottles:
    1. Consumer educationàincreases quantity and quality of recyclable material; reduces contaminates included with recyclables.

                                                               i.      Only PET bottles with screw-neck tops should be placed out for collection or brought to a collection location. PET bottles can be identified by looking for the #1 resin ID on the bottle of PET bottles. Any non-bottle PET items, like thermoforms, should be excluded. These materials introduce contaminants or create technical or economic problems in the PET recycling process.

                                                             ii.      Only PET containers that are clear or transparent green should be included for recycling.

                                                            iii.      Consumers should remove lids, caps, and other closures from PET bottles placed out for recycling.

                                                           iv.      All PET bottles that are set out for recycling should be completely free of contents and rinsed clean.

                                                             v.      Consumer should flatten PET bottles prior to setting them out. This decreases collection costs.

                                                           vi.      Consumers should never place any material other than the original contents into PET bottles intended for recycling i.e. chemicals.

  1. Encourage consumers to purchase products made with recycled content; this will ensure the long-term demand and economic infrastructure for the recovery of post consumer PET.
  2. Encourage retailers to increase the amount of recycled content in their private label packaging.
  3. Encourage product producers to increase the amount of recycled content in their products.
  4. Encourage produce producers to source packaging with a percentage of PC content.
  5. Designate ALL PET bottles with screw-neck caps are acceptable for recycling.

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Supply and demand of PET bottles, North American context

  1. Supply:
    1. Although recyclers say finding bales of PCR material is easier than before, the QUALITY is way down (plasticstoday.com).

                                                               i.      Coca-Cola’s plant bottle capped its PCR PET content at 30% in North America, due to limited supply (plasticstoday.com).

                                                             ii.      Working to counter that is Leon Farahnik (see case studies).

  1.  
    1. 30,699 tones of PET bottles were generated in Canada from 1999 to 2000.
    2. 42% of PET bottles generated were recovered post-consumer.
  2. Demand:
    1. There is a high demand for PCR PET bottles in North America: “There is a phenomenal pent-up demand for PC PET recyclate…the problem now is getting it” (NAPCOR). 
    2. There are over 250 buyers of PET bottle bales in North America.
    3. Brand owners and product producers demand PCR PET for packaging and products.

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Supply and demand of PET thermoforms, North American context

  1. Supply:
    1. According to the ACC, about 325 million lbs of non-bottle plastic packaging was recycled in 2007, with 2/3rds being exported. The ACC estimates that there has to be about 400 million lbs of a particular plastic for the recycling of it to be profitable. APR estimates that in the U.S., grocery stores generate about 135,000 tonnes/year of rigid plastics packaging (plasticstoday.com).
    2. In the U.S., there is a tremendous interest in increasing the available supply of PCR from thermoformed PET packaging (plasticstoday.com).
    3. 1.4 billion lbs of PET thermoforms produced in North America in 2008 (plasticstoday.com).
    4. By 2011, thermoform PET recycling could be ½ the size of the PET bottle market as growth in PET thermoforms is estimated at 15% per year.

                                                               i.      This is because the substitution of PET with PVC in many thermoforming applications.  

  1. Confusion exists around the generation of PET thermoforms because ambiguous categories i.e. “other rigids” vs. “custom PET.” See “Plastic Waste Management Strategy for Ontario” handout from MOC meeting, #1.
  1. Demand:
    1. Demand for recyclate from PET bottles is “going through the roof,” which means many recyclers are hesitant to start recycling non-bottle PCR PET, for which there is no defined customer base.
    2. Retailers and product producers demand PCR plastic for use in products and packaging.
  2. Market drivers:
    1. Public policy
    2. Corporate initiatives i.e. retailer mandates a certain % of PCR content in plastic packaging.
    3. China

                                                               i.      Will China virgin continue to undercut the U.S.?

                                                             ii.      Will Chinese exporters rely on U.S. bottle scrap? 

  1. The cost of energy

                                                               i.      If the cost of fuel rises, there may be more interest in recovering PET thermoforms from the waste stream.

  1. Obstacles:
    1. 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.
    2.  Adhesives used on pressure-sensitive paper labels are different from those used on PET bottles and could cause yellowing.
    3. Some direct printing.
    4. Different additives than in PET bottles.
    5.  Flake geometry concerns.
    6.  Wide variability in intrinsic viscosity. PET bottles= 0.64-0.80 vs. PET thermoforms= 0.70 -0.75 (according to our supplier of RPET).
    7. Different shapes and sizes of PET thermoforms make it difficult to bale and they don’t “fly” like bottles do during the sortation/ejection process.
    8. There are no specs for PET thermoform bales. The only specs that exist are for mixed material balesà this is usually a low grade plastic mix that is remanufactured into timber-applications or playgrounds.
    9. Multi-later material PET thermoforms i.e. APET barrier, RPET base, etc.
    10. Low generation and recovery because non-homogenous and no defined end-market.

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Interview with StewardEdge and Stewardship Ontario’s Director of Plastics Development

  • In 1/3 and soon to be 3/3 provinces in Canada, EPR legislation exists, which requires industry to fund the recovery of their packaging post-consumer; this DRIVES recycling in Canada.
  • Stewardship Ontario (hereafter, S.O.) is like the Fost Plus system of Belgium for Canada—it takes money from industry to cover the costs of reprocessing packaging waste post-consumer.  It has a monopoly on this right now insofar as it is the only company that works as the middle man between industry and municipalities; it collects materials via blue box system, sorts, cleans and grinds at MRFs, and is sold to domestic and international markets.
  • S.O. doesn’t really care how materials get recycled i.e. bottles to bottles vs. bottles to carpet; they care that materials are recycled.
  • PET thermoforms are collected and sold as follows:
    • PET and other rigid thermoforms are not targeted by municipalities in Canada.
    • Some municipalities collect rigids with bottles, which are baled together, and sold to China—this means that there is a market for mixed bottle and thermo bales.
    • However, things are being done on “numerous fronts” and we should see some results in a year in regard to developing new end markets for non-bottle rigids.
  • PET bottles are collected and sold as follows:
    • Collected via Blue Box system; enjoy high recovery rates.
    • There is a demand for PET bottles but not enough supply.
  • According to Guy, “there is an oversupply of recycling capacity for PET.
  • To increase the recovery of all plastic materials, S.O. is open to the following sortation systems:
    • Sort each resin manual or via optical sorter;
    • Blend the different resins together for a low-grade plastic mix;
    • Taylor the different resins via pyrolysis or other WTE technologies;
    • Upgrade the resins via chemical manipulation.
  • Problems with recovery thermoforms:
    • Lack of quantity;
    • Economic issues (price of virgin vs. price of recycled PET);
    • Sorting/technology barriers;
    • Lack of investment;
    • Lack of defined supply and demand.
  • Companies with an investment in packaging materials have invested 3 million dollars in S.O. to develop new markets for plastic scrap

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Case Studies

  1. Par-Pak LTD (Brampton, Canada): 
    1. In 2011, Par-Pak is importing $2.5 million worth of equipment from Europe that will palletize and decontaminate both bottle and thermoform PET for reuse in food-grade containers.
    2. Sorting tests have been conducted at Toronto’s Dufferin recycling plant and in the Region of Waterloo and the thermoform bales have been shipped to the U.S. for processing south of the border (Thermoforming Quarterly).
    3. “Our ultimate goal is to have our containers go into a blue box, collected, sorted and ground and us buy it and make more containers out of it.”
  2. Global Plastics/Global PET (California):
    1. Washes, grinds, extrudes, and thermoforms PET into clamshell packages using nothing but post-consumer recycled PET.
    2. “Bottle Box:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRPYccEXt-8.
    3. Received a grant of nearly 7 million from the state of California.
    4. Established a 10-year partnership with Plastic Recycling Corp. for 60 million lbs of post-consumer PET bottles.
  3. Company X:
    1. Buy PET bottle and thermoform bales and extrude into second generation PCR PET clamshells.
    2. Questions:

                                                               i.      What are the specs of the bales of thermoforms Company X is buying from the MRF? Are they only PET thermoforms or are they mixed material thermoform bales?

                                                             ii.      If only PET thermoforms, is there enough QUANTITY of these types of packages available for the recovery of PET thermoforms to be economically sustainable?

                                                            iii.      How do they collect ONLY PET thermoforms without collecting “look a likes” like PVC, which will completely compromise the integrity of the PET bale, or PETG, which has a lower melting temperature and therefore adds inconsistencies to the recovery process?

                                                           iv.      Are you planning on integrating the PET thermoform scrap with the PET bottle scrap and extruding together? If so, how will you handle the different IVs between sheet grade PET and bottle grade PET?

                                                             v.      If mixed material thermoform bales i.e. PET, PETG, PP, etc., how are the different resins sorted for recovery? Are they blended together to create a low-grade, mixed resin flake for down-cycling applications? If so, who is buying this low-grade, mixed resin flake?

                                                           vi.      What kind of sorting technology is utilized to be able to generate a clean, quality stream of PET thermoforms for Company X to grind, clean, and extrude for direct food-contact packaging?

                                                          vii.      How are you competing with Asia for PCR PET?

  1. Ice River Springs (Toronto)
    1. Bottle-bottle recycling a.k.a. “closed loop.”
    2.  “Our goal is to eliminate our dependency on foreign virgin PET resin by self-manufacturing recycled resin from baled post-consumer plastic purchased from MRFs” (Packworld, April 2010).
    3. “AMUT S.p.A.”= technology that sorts, cleans, and flakes PC PET.
    4. “Starlinger”= technology implemented for the purification of the clean RPET material; it has a Solid State Poly-condensation technology that effectively purifies PET flake and keeps the energy consumption and cost to a minimum. The Starlinger system concerts flake to PET pellets, which are then used for the next generation of bottles.
    5. Ontario recyclers will no longer need to sell baled PET to Asiaàpurchase of baled PET will provide a stable demand for baled PET bottles in Canada.
  2. HPC, Leon Farahnik:
    1. Intends to build a 100 million lbs per year PET recycling plant in California because most PC PET is exported to China; Faraknik believes he can compete with Asia for PET bales.
    2. UNM International (Hong Kong) = purchased 140 million lbs of PCR plastics in 2009 from North America and the Middle East.
    3. Chinese recyclers can not find enough QUALITY recyclate.
    4. Problem= high demand for PET recyclate; how to get it?
  3. Haycore (Canada):
    1. Accepts some non-bottle plastic material post-consumer.
  4. Clear Path (North Carolina):
    1. A new facility that may have the ability to take RPET clamshell materials the other way (toward bottles, or at least polyester), but we wont know until the plant is live next year.

Recycling and…China?

June 1, 2010

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends! I am feeling tip top today after having a four-day hiatus from work: I slept, I swam, I sunbathed, I ate…good times. I hope you all had an equally relaxing Memorial Day weekend, too!

AND know what’s even weirder—I actually missed work. That’s right, I missed the act of being productive…go figure!

So my last post was a little all over the place. I do believe, however, that this article may tie it all together, which then gets me on another rant of sorts. First, observe:  

NAPCOR: US efforts to recycle falling short

By Mike Verespej | PLASTICS NEWS STAFF

Posted May 28, 2010

SONOMA, CALIF. (May 28, 10:45 a.m. ET) — Longtime plastics recycling advocate Dennis Sabourin said “bold steps” are needed to increase supplies of not just recycled PET bottles but all plastics and recycling materials.

The executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., and a former Wellman Inc. executive said it is time for extended producer-responsibility laws and eco-fees on products. Also needed are public-policy initiatives that provide funds for recyclers to create green jobs and for stakeholders to come together, in coalition-style, to advance the recycling of all materials.

Even with the green movement, Sabourin said, “recycling is still not a front-burner issue,” as it was in 1995, when the PET recycling rate climbed to nearly 40 percent. That rate plummeted to less than 20 percent by 2003 before rebounding in 2008 to 27 percent — based on the most recent numbers available.

 “Why not have a national initiative to divert some of the stimulus funds to recycling on a broad-based effort?” he asked. “That would create jobs in the United States.”

He called initiatives introduced by Vermont and Rhode Island, and the extended producer-responsibility law passed by Maine earlier this year, steps in the right direction. “They will not give us any immediate relief from a supply standpoint, but EPR will bear fruit down the road,” he said, noting that an EPR law in Canada has given recycling rates there a huge boost. Canada’s return/diversion rate for non-alcoholic beverage containers is 64 percent.

He said the biggest obstacle to more recycling is the lack of a concerted public policy to motivate consumers to recycle, a move that would create jobs.

 “There are plenty of materials out there and plenty of markets for those materials. We have to reach out and start working together to get more materials collected,” he said.

For the full article, visit http://www.plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=18730&channel=260.

This article was referred to me by my co-lead of the PET subcommittee for Walmart-Canada because it illustrates the infrastructural differences between recycling in America and recycling in Canada, where I am now focusing a lot of my research/work.

ANYWAY, what I am trying to imply between my last post and Sabourin’s argument (that some sort of legislation must be put on the books that REQUIRES industry/municipalities to meet recycling targets in order to increase the diversion rates in the States), is, touché! I believe that until there are some extended producer responsibility requirements implemented in the States that forces industry and municipalities to work together to divert more materials from the landfill, my recycling initiative will continue to be just that—an initiative, with little sight of implementation.

While there are some positive signs like retailers advocating post-consumer content in products and packages or recycling drop-off centers (think Whole Foods), I see little improvement across-the-board in regard to the amount of materials recycled in America until EPR legislation is implemented. As mentioned here and again throughout my blog, we need: SUPPLY, which we don’t have because no one is collecting it or they don’t wish to compete with China for purchasing post industrial/consumer scrap; DEMAND, which we don’t have with the crash of the economy, although this is changing as CPG companies look for quality streams of post-consumer plastics; and, INVESTMENT, which we defiantly don’t have because it has not been an economic priority (why worry about recycling plastics when the cost of virgin resins is so low?!?).

BUT then enter EPR, which requires producers i.e. brand owners, first importers, product manufactures (those responsible for putting the product/package on the shelf) to FUND the recovery of their product’s packaging waste post-consumer. Then all of a sudden organizations like Fost Plus in Belguim or Stewardship Ontario in Canada develop to help manage the money transfer from industry to municipalities and viola, the recovery rates of packaging—all packaging—would increase. I am sure it’s not that easy but you get the gist…

Anyway, I wished to include this argument in our June Newsletter (we send out newsletters each month updating all our contacts in regard to what is new at Dordan and what is new in the industry), but was met with some hesitation from some of the more “business-minded” folk at Dordan. According to these colleagues, EPR legislation would probably not do well by domestic manufactures because all of a sudden, our packages would become more expensive (or the product would become more expensive, or the cost to manage the waste would be pushed throughout the supply chain) than those produced overseas in say, China, where they have no EPR legislation on the books. But the first importers would be required to pay for managing Chinese packaging waste post-consumer, right? If so, would that provide an incentive to source packaging domestically? Now I’m confused.

SOOOOO our CEO called me into his office to discuss EPR and its implications into our business because I wanted to highlight this article in our June newsletter, and he wanted to ensure that we were not shooting ourselves. What he basically said, like any good American dream manifestation, is: why is our industry being targeted as irresponsible with our waste while CPG companies source TONS of products and packages from overseas, where little environmental and labor regulations exist? In a nut shell: What are the ethics of being “environmentally friendly” in the context of sourcing international manufacturing?

AND enter new research project: I am now going to be researching all that is Chinese manufacturing to come up with an argument that highlights the contradictions between trying to be “green” and sourcing manufacturing overseas.

I sent one of my former professors the following email, which marks the beginning of my research journey:

Hello!

This is Chandler Slavin—I graduate last spring from the Religious Studies Department and took your class on inter-faith engagement (I had the Turkish versus Greek debate) my senior year. Remember?

I hope this email finds you well.

I was wondering if you could help me with something: I work for my family business, which is a domestic manufacturer of plastic packaging for the consumer electronics industry. I am the Sustainability Coordinator, which means I research issues pertaining to sustainability and packaging in order to stay ahead of the curve and market ourselves as a “green” manufacturer. In our industry, there is a lot of concern over the “sustainability” of a product or package and many retailers have invested considerable amounts of time and money into trying to “green up” their image by switching packaging materials, having recycling drop-off centers, and labeling various products as “environmentally friendly.”

Anyway, often times we sell packaging based on discussions of sustainability. However, our biggest competitor isn’t other green plastics manufacturers but Chinese manufacturers, who can sell packages at a much lower cost into our economy, while we are unable to sell our packages into their economy without paying some sort of tax or entering some kind of agreement with the Chinese government.

Our CEO wants me to research this contradiction:

While American product producers are being pressured to green up their products/packages (I have been working on a recycling initiative for months now) or dispose of products/packages responsibly (its called “extended producer responsibility” and CA has some of these laws on the books in regard to managing electronic waste), many American product producers i.e. brand owners, are sourcing the manufacturing of their product and package overseas, where lax environmental regulations and labor laws allow for unsustainable production profiles and cheap products. Basically, when everyone in our industry is obsessing about the sustainability of a package (market research shows that consumers are more likely to buy products labeled as “green”), we are constantly competing with overseas manufacturers, who have absolutely no environmental or social platform in the context of “sustainability.”

Wow, that’s a lot. Because you work on environmental policy I was wondering what you knew about Chinese economic and social development in the context of the environment. If willing, could I come visit you and perhaps you could point me in the right direction? Seriously, any insight you could provide would be very well received. Think of it as the ethics of green marketing vs. overseas manufacturing…sounds intriguing, no?

Thanks for your time!

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow for more goodness!

Happy Monday Funday! I hope the weather is as beautiful for you as it is for me—sunny and 70, what more can a girl ask for?

 SO where were we…that’s right, recapping the SPC spring meeting.

Oh, before I forget, there was one more thing I wanted to tell you about the Walmart Expo.

Prior to the Expo, in preparation for the Walmart SVN meeting (Sustainable Value Network), we were asked to do a little homework: this entailed going to a local Walmart and finding a package that needed a “sustainability makeover.” We were supposed to fill out a “packaging opportunities template,” which basically inquired into how one would redesign the package to increase its environmental profile while saving costs. This is what our team came up with:

PackagingOpportunitiesTemplate, FINAL

We decided to pick on a thermoformed package because we are thermoformers, although this one looks as though it was manufactured overseas, due to the perimeter sealing. Therefore, it’s not like we would be able to steal the business…I wonder what the sustainability profile is of an overseas manufacturer versus a domestic supplier…Ha!

Anywhoozy, it turns out that during the SVN meeting several of these “packaging opportunities” were to be presented to the entire conference—and guess what—I was one of the lucky four selected to present.

Basically I suggested that the package be right-sized and thermoformed out of RPET instead of PVC. The panel then inquired into how I would convey the same marketing presence with a reduced package AND prevent against pilferage. I was stumped. Perhaps include a recyclable paperboard backing, I offered? That totally stunk, however, because it suggested that paperboard is more “sustainable” than plastic, which I would not argue having performed extensive research on the topic. AND, according to the recent E.P.A. reports, the paperboard used in clamshell alternatives (labeled “other paperboard packaging” in the MSW report) HAS NO RECOVERY DATA—literally it is listed as neg., which means negligent. I wish I had known this during my presentation as it would have served our industry well. Rats!

Visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf to see the break down of what is recycled and what is not in the paper world.

I guess my obsession with the recycle-ability of paperboard versus thermoforms can be summed up as follows:

I am at the Walmart Expo, working the booth. A prospect comes by, with whom I have had casual conversation in the past. Having seen his product at a competitor’s booth, I hassle him saying, “I saw your thermoformed trays at our competitor’s booth…and here you have been blowing me off all year…not very nice!” And he responds with, “we are getting out of thermoformed trays because they are not recycled.”

UG! What do you say to that? Prior to knowing that paperboard, which would be the alternative used for his packaging application, has no data for recovery post-consumer according to the E.P.A., I assumed that it was the more sustainable material because of its end-of-life recovery. But now that I know that in most cases, both thermoformed trays AND paperboard trays end up in landfills, I should have articulated a better argument for why thermoformed trays are still a wonderful packaging option.

It’s like when you have some kind of social confrontation and find yourself tongue-tied only to later come up with the best “come-back” ever! That’s what this was like; I needed a good come back, both for the “packaging opportunities” presentation and the fellow who thinks paperboard is better due to its end of life recovery. Next time…

A couple other points about the Walmart Expo:

As discussed in a previous post, the Walmart Scorecard has a “transport module,” which takes into account the inputs/outputs of shipping a package from the point of conversion/manufacture to the point of fulfillment. Supposedly the filled packages’ journey to the point of purchase is covered in another metric…

Anyway, I asked if the scorecard takes into account/intends to take into account the environmental ramifications of overseas manufacturers versus domestic manufactures. After all, long before my appointment at Dordan, we lost business to China because of the super duper low prices of labor and therefore commodities. And considering all this sustainability jazz, one would think that sourcing domestically would have some kind of impact on ones Score (think shipping, environmental regulations, labor regulations, etc. in China versus the States)…unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a member of the SVN, Walmart considered having a “point of origin” metric but determined that it was unquantifiable and would not resonate with their suppliers. Go figure!

A SVN member then articulated the following inquiry, which tickled me pink: Is the Scorecard going to take into account the inks, laminates, and sealants used on paperboard packaging? The member who voiced this inquiry qualified this question with some data, specifically, that even the tiny amounts of hazardous material in these various substances can have a high toxicity on the social and environmental environments.

This inquiry was answered as follows: Again, they considered adding this metric into the Scorecard but did not because they didn’t believe that these factors had a large enough effect on the overall “environmental profile” of a package. Supposedly, if we prove otherwise, they will consider adding this metric into the scorecard…

Lastly, Walmart is rolling out their Scorecard to other countries. I asked if each Scorecard used different recovery rates depending on the country it was being utilized for. In other words, Canada has a better recovery rate for most packaging materials that the U.S.; therefore, is their Scorecard going to use Canadian recovery data or American? According to the SVN, each Scorecard will be country specific, using recovery data from the country considered.

Wow, another marathon of an email. I’m sorry to keep rambling, I just have so many thoughts! I will continue tomorrow with the SPC recap and quickly move into resuming my clamshell recycling initiative.

Go packaging!

Day 3: Oct 13, 2009

January 25, 2010

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Scott Paeth, continues to be a sounding board for my inquiries about ethics, even several months into my post-grad life. As my academic advisor and my Senior Thesis mentor, I had the opportunity of developing a relationship with him that expanded beyond the parameters of the classroom; I still consider him a great friend and mentor.

Two months into my new job as the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Mfg., I was struggling with the “ethics of sustainability.” I shot Dr. Paeth the following email, looking for any direction to point my ethical compass towards:

Hey! 
 
How is the school year going? Good stuff? 
 
Okay, so consider the following: 
 
I went to a contract packaging facility on Friday, which basically assembles the different components of the package i.e. paper card, plastic clamshell, sticker, product, etc. They don’t make anything, they just put it together. This facility is the home of the Chia pet. Ironically, the Obama Chia is made in
China, imported to the US, packaged in the US, and then distributed in the US. Similar products are made in China, packaged in China, and then distributed in the US. How can companies market themselves as green, while the product and often tines package is made in China under lax environmental regulations and poor working conditions? 

In a nut shell: I am trying to figure out how to market ourselves as an ethical company, both environmentally and socially, but am having a difficult time because marketing in general seems disingenuous…why do consumers care about being green when they don’t even consider the people that are making the product and the conditions they are working in? 
 
Sorry to ramble– I am just so frustrated. I keep trying to sell our product to people who get their packaging from overseas. Yet they market themselves as green. I can’t tell if the green washing acts as a distraction from the reality– that the only thing that matters is money– even at the expense of people’s lives. 
 
If you have any insight, or books, or information pertaining to the ethics of advertising or environmental advertising or overseas manufacturing or anything that you think might provide some clarity to this cluster of craziness, I would be very happy. 
 
Oh, the real world is hard! 
 
I look forward to hearing from you! 
 
Best, 
 
Chandler 
 
I met up with Dr. Paeth the following week, who gave me a bunch of books on business ethics and the “corporate soul.” To be honest, however, this was the first time that I realized that his extensive knowledge didn’t apply to my new job: he was not able to provide me with the data I was requesting nor was he able to explain why certain information, even information about consumer products’ and their packages, could be classified as proprietary. I believe that this initiates the schism between the academic and the corporate for me; the great divide where one world no longer informs the other—a.k.a. “the real world.”

Paeth did hook me up with one of his colleagues in the science department. Although we never met, he suggested I look into the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which, he offered, may shed some light on why it is difficult to find environmental information on different packaging materials. While I found some vague information on this Act, it wasn’t until January 4th of 2010 that an article came out in The Washington Post that described this Act in laymen’s terms; I have included the pertinent sections of the editorial below:

Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; A01

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

“You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. “It’s impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret.”

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products, according to the EPA.

The identities of the chemicals are known to a handful of EPA employees who are legally barred from sharing that information with other federal officials, state health and environmental regulators, foreign governments, emergency responders and the public.

YIKES! It appears as though I have opened up a can of worms. Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me.