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!

Hey yall!

Check it: Recycling for Thermoformers
RAD!

Greetings my packaging and sustainability friends! I swear, my lot in life is writer’s block: I have been invited to contribute content to SupplierHub’s blog, and am required to submit my first post TODAY, dun dun dunnn. SupplierHub is a closed portal website for Wal-Mart Private Brand suppliers, which looks to aid said suppliers in the attainment of better Packaging and Supply Chain Scores. Check out the website here: http://mysupplierhub.com/login.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fdefault.aspx

Therefore, my content, in addition to establishing myself as an authority on packaging and sustainability via my participation with the SPC, Wal-Mart SVN, and MOC Committee of Wal-Mart Canada, should help Wal-Mart Suppliers increase their Scores in some way shape or form. Because I sat in on seminars about the Wal-Mart Packaging Scorecard at the Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club Sustainable Packaging Expo in Bentonville and subscribe to the Wal-Mart Packaging Modeling Software 2.0, I feel as though I am fairly well versed in the metrics and therefore could provide some insight into how to get a better Packaging Score; however, because Dordan does not sell directly to Wal-Mart (our customers sell to Wal-Mart), I am unsure how to go about the whole Supply Chain Score thingamajig…I assume it has something to do with supply chain logistics and finding the most economically and therefore environmentally efficient way to manufacture, transport and distribute products at the various Wal-Mart shopping centers throughout America and the world, but that is just an assumption. I often times feel like Wal-Mart is a club that I can’t quite get into, which is conveyed, in my opinion, by the closed portal nature of SupplierHub: Because I am not a Private Brand supplier to Wal-Mart I can’t access the website that I have been invited to contribute blog content to; as an academic, understanding the audience and medium is crucial to creating the content; without which, it is sort of like shooting in the dark. Ohhhh well, you never get anywhere dilly-dallying, right?

By the by, today I should be in Canada at the Walmart SVN/MOC meeting, but I am not. This is for various reasons, which I won’t bore you with. However, I have been watching the presentations via “Global Crossing Conferencing,” which is cool, but don’t have anything too terribly exciting to report. Right now the presenter is discussing Walmart Canada’s action plan for 2010-2012 in regard to the goals outlined by the MOC…and now they are having a break. I love technology!

NOW, drum roll please…NAPCOR/APR have published their much anticipated 2009 PET Recycling Report, which outlines the progress being made in recycling PET thermoforms in the appendix. For the full report, visit: http://www.napcor.com/pdf/2009_Report.pdf. I have also copy and pasted the section on PET thermoform recycling here. Enjoy!!!

ADDENDUM: PET THERMOFORM RECYCLING

The dramatic growth in PET thermoformed packaging has resulted in pressures from environmentalists, brand owners, policy makers, recycling program operators, and most importantly, consumers, 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.

NAPCOR has made recycling of PET thermoforms its highest priority and to that end, has been working with collectors, intermediate processors, reclaimers and end markets to identify and clearly define these technical issues, and to eliminate the barriers to successful recycling. These barriers include: look-alike packages made from
OPS, PLA, OPP and PVC that require advanced autosort technology; certain adhesives used for paper labels on PET thermoforms; package geometry; and wide variability in intrinsic viscosity.

In 2009, NAPCOR facilitated the shipment of almost one million pounds of PET thermoforms to various reclaimers and end markets in an effort to better understand and remedy these barriers. As a result of this work, it is anticipated that there will be various market options for this material in the near future. This expectation is based on both planned retrofits to existing plants to enable them to handle the variety of shapes and sizes associated with PET thermoforms; new plants being designed to accommodate PET thermoforms; and further work with the PET thermoform manufacturers to establish common adhesive and other “design for recycling” guidelines to address technical barriers to recycling. NAPCOR is committed to working on this issue until PET thermoforms can be labeled “recyclable” in the truest sense of the word (see http://www.napcor.com/PET/positions.html for the NAPCOR position statement on Use of the Term Recyclable), and is optimistic that its efforts will be successful.

NAPCOR acknowledges the strong support of this effort by Stewardship Ontario, Waste Diversion Ontario, The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), and the Canadian Plastic Industry Association (CPIA), without whose collective assistance we would not have made nearly the progress achieved to date.

UG! I have been pulling my hair out the last two days trying to condense my 10-page recycling report, available here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling, to 600 words for publication in PlasticsNews! After much frustration, I realized there is no way I can incorporate all the necessary facets in 600 words; therefore, what follows is my best attempt to simplify my findings while still being informative and of value to the industry.

Enjoy!

Being new to the plastics industry, it was just last year that I discovered that thermoformed packaging, like the clamshells, blisters and trays Dordan manufacturers, are not recycled in 60% or more American communities; therefore, could not be considered “recyclable” according to the FTC’s Green Guides’ definition. While everything is theoretically “recyclable,” only those packaging/material types that are collected post consumer in the “substantial majority of American communities” and sold for reprocessing can be considered recycled/recyclable.

Upon this discovery I began researching what obstacles had historically kept thermoforms out of the recycling infrastructure, in hopes that in isolating the problems, the industry could begin developing solutions. However, I wasn’t alone in this inquiry; organizations like NAPCOR, APR, and others have long identified the market potential of post consumer thermoform recyclate and are working with stakeholders to develop the necessary infrastructure, markets, and technology to facilitate the recycling of thermoforms. Therefore, for a more technical treatment of the progress that is being made in recycling thermoforms, consult the work of the APR, NAPCOR, and their industry partners.

After a year of independent research on recycling, I published my “Recycling Report: the truth about clamshell and blister recycling in America with suggestions for the industry,” which outlines my understanding of the economics dictating the recycling of thermoformed packaging. It is important to note that I in no way intend to present myself as an expert on recycling thermoforms, nor do I intend my Report to be interpreted as an exhaustive study on the topic. That being said, I do feel as though my Report adds to the ongoing discussion surrounding recycling insofar as it presents a concise overview of why certain packaging/material types, like PET/RPET bottles, are recycled, while others, like PET/RPET thermoforms, are not. In addition, I hope that my Report can be interpreted as an analogy for other packaging/material types insofar as while there are dramatic differences between the various post consumer materials’ markets, there are similarities, which when understood, could facilitate the increased diversion of all packaging materials from the waste stream.

What follows is a brief summary of my findings, described in depth in my Recycling Report.

Key findings:

There are three popular approaches to recycling thermoforms:

1. Recycle PET/RPET thermoforms with PET/RPET bottles;
2. Recycle all PET/RPET thermoforms together, separate from PET/RPET bottle stream;
3. Recycle all mixed resin thermoforms together in a low grade plastic mix.

Depending on the approach taken, there are different end markets for the reprocessed material; therefore, different collecting, sorting, cleaning and baling considerations. Due to the confines of the allotted space, I can’t discuss the implications of the various approaches. Regardless of the approach taken, however, the following issues need to be considered:

Basic recycling considerations:

Supply and demand: In order for a package/material type to be collected via curbside or other systems for recycling, there has to be a buyer/end market for the post consumer material. The buyer/end market requires a certain quantity and quality of material, often times outlined in “specs.” For those materials not currently recycled, the supply and demand equilibrium is often described via the chicken and egg analogy: a material/packaging type will not be collected if there is no demand for the post consumer material; there is no demand for the post consumer material if there is no supply available for reprocessing.

Specs: Every package/material type that is collected for recycling has specs, which indicate to the MRF/reclaimer what is allowed in the bale for resale and what is not. For instance, most PET bottle specs indicate that only clear, think neck PET bottles are accepted for reprocessesing, while all other PET rigid containers are not. The development of specs for PET/RPET thermoform and PET/RPET bottle bales, PET/RPET thermoform-only bales, and mixed resin thermoform bales are crucial for the ability of MRFs to sort and bale thermoforms for resale; hence, recycling.

Sorting: For a package/material type to be recycled there has to be a way to efficiently sort the desired material from the material destined for landfill at the MRF/reclaimer level. The more efficient the sorting technology, the lower the cost to “recycle” the material; therefore, the more economically competitive the reprocessed material/product will be in the market. Optical sorting (near Infra-red) can successfully sort PET/RPET thermoforms from other “look-a-likes,” like PVC, a known contaminant to the PET recyclate stream.

Contaminants: The buyer/end market of the post consumer material determines what is considered a contaminant to the material. This dramatically informs how the material is collected, sorted, cleaned and baled for resale because contaminants are reclaimers number one obstacle: if the bale does not meet specs for the buyer/end market, the material will not be sold and recycled.

In short, the recycling of thermoforms depends on the ability to collect, transport, sort, clean, bale and remanufacture into new material/products in an economically competitive way with virgin material/product production. Issues such as adequate supply and demand, best sorting, cleaning, and baling processes, and reprocessing/remanufacturing technologies need to be addressed in order to incorporate thermoforms into the recycling infrastructure. For more information on how these considerations specifically inform recycling thermoforms, I urge you to download the entire Recycling Report at http://www.dordan.com. I will also be presenting these findings and more at Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 in Atlanta, December 8th and 9th. I look forward to seeing you there!

Good news!

October 13, 2010

Good news everyone!

The progress that is being made in recycling thermoforms will be available to the public sometime next week in the appendix of APRs/NAPCORs Report on PET Container Recycling Activity. Look out for it!

I am working on an abstract of my report on recycling thermoforms for publication in PlasticsNews. Upon its completion, I will post it here, so you—my packaging and sustainability friends—can read it first!

Have a splendid afternoon!

Good afternoon world! What a gorgeous day it is in Chicago! I am writing from my favorite Starbucks in downtown Chicago; it has a 360 degree view of all the hustle and bustle of a normal work day in the busy financial district!

So yea, my plan didn’t necessary go according to plan: I contacted one of the organizations that is responsible, in part, for the progress being made in recycling thermoforms and asked if they could produce some kind of press release detailing the progress being made, and referencing the responsible parties. My intention was that in having the responsible parties generate a press release, they could control the content and distribution, thereby allowing them to educate the industry on the progress in recycling thermoforms, while being recognized as those who have been driving said progress. After all, I have had nothing to do with the progress being made in the last 18 months, and in no way wish to take credit there for it; I simply wanted to inform the industry that progress was in fact being made, in hopes of elevating the reputation of our industry.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the progress being made is at the point where the various organizations involved feel comfortable informing the industry for fear that the progress may somehow be halted. Whether or not that is the case, I have to respect their opinions as I respect the work they have done and in no way wish to be a deterrent to their continued work on this issue.

So, sorry guys…I guess all good things come to those who wait?

On a higher note, I have been invited to meet the gentleman speaking at an industry shin dig during Pack Expo, as he is a DePaul Fellow of the Business Ethics Institute. Because I am a DePaul alumni and received my bachelors degree in ethics, the event organizer thought I would like the opportunity to pick his brain, which I totally do!

Perhaps this will be a good time to look into furthering my education…muhahaha.

Have a jolly afternoon!

DA BEARSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

Dordan is still relishing in its team’s win from last night; you can just feel the excitement in the office, or at least, smell the beer evaporating from our skin. Ha!

Good afternoon my packaging and sustainability friends. I have some SUPER exciting news!

Two weeks ago I emailed my recycling report (download it here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling) to everyone and anyone I thought would benefit from the information. A colleague in the waste management industry responded thoughtfully (see September 20th’s post), as did some other stakeholders. While there feedback was very much appreciated, today I received the BEST feedback EVER!

Just moments ago I received a letter from someone who participates in the Walmart-Canada PET Subcommittee and represents an industry group explaining what progress has been made over the last 18 months in regard to recycling PET thermoforms! And let me tell you, progress has been made boy howdy! I am just tickled pink by these developments, which suggest that PET thermoforms can and WILL be recycled post consumer in North America in the not-too-distant future. Finally my dream of converting thermoforms collected via curbside into second generation thermoforms will be a reality and I will be able to say with pride that plastic packaging is recycled, not just “recyclable.” Hurray!

And, not to get all nostalgic and what not, but I don’t think I could have started this investigation at any better of a time: Had I started this clamshell recycling initiative years ago, the industry-momentum needed probably would not have existed, which I argue, is the result of the increased pressure on companies to integrate an end-of-life option into their packaging life cycle, among other contemporary developments. And, in only a year, not only have we uncovered the obstacles keeping thermoforms out of the recycling infrastructure, but we have begun to find a way to work toward their inclusion. Well done plastics industry!

 Now that I have dangled this fabulousness in front of you, I regret to inform you that I am unable to share this information until I receive the necessary approval. But don’t worry, as soon as I get the green light, you will be the first to know!

I am up to my ears in research but will get back to you tomorrow with all sorts of goodness.

Misc. updates FUN

September 20, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!

Before I get to the meat of today’s post, which will either discuss biodegradable plastics OR the SPC meeting (I haven’t decided yet…) I wanted to provide you with a recap of Dordan’s various sustainability initiatives and miscellaneous tid bits…

Composter update:

First, our composter is totally finished; last week compost Phil added a retractable roof to keep the critters our and the smell in. She’s a real beaut! Now we are in the process of getting separate bins in the cafeteria for our employees to place their food scraps in, thereby providing our compost pile with the nitrogen required for success! Pictures to come!

Zero-waste update:

Because I have been so busy with miscellaneous Pack Expo tasks (check out Dordan’s exciting 2010 Pack Expo-only Show Specials at: http://www.dordan.com/dordan_2010_pack_expo_only_show_specials.shtml) the zero-waste initiative was placed on the backburner. Now that I am back and don’t have any plans to travel in the near future, I am in the process of creating a zero-waste action plan. More details to come but I assume another waste audit is on the horizonL.

Victory Garden Update:

Emily and Phil have staked out the plot for their organic farm next spring. While it was smaller than anticipated, they are very excited about Dordan donating the use of its land to the production of organics for local restaurants. Due to their intentions of growing an organic garden on Dordan’s land next spring, we have cancelled plans to spray our land with pesticides, which in the past has been done to preserve our yard and trees from annoying infestations. Emily has plans to plow the area this fall to determine the quality of the soil prior to retiring for the winter. In addition, she and I are researching how to build a greenhouse as she expressed a desire for a warm room to start her seedlings in before moving them outside with the start of the growing season next spring.

Grassroots education update:

I am going to the Woodstock High school this Wednesday for their first meeting of the Environmental Task Force. The ETF is made up of administrative folk and one student representative and its task is to develop and implement various sustainability initiatives in D200 schools. I have been invited to pitch my desire to teach students about recycling to the various principals and deans that sit on the Committee and see what other ways I can get involved in the community.

SPC Executive Committee update:

As some of you know, I have been nominated for the Executive Committee of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. To recap, the SPC is…

…An industry working group dedicated to a more robust environmental vision for packaging. Through strong member support, an informed and science-based approach, supply chain collaborations and continuous outreach, we endeavor to build packaging systems that encourage economic prosperity and a sustainable flow of materials.

The Exec Committee, therefore, is described as follows:

Our Executive Committee consists of nine elected members and one GreenBlue representative, all of whom are dedicated to the SPC and our mission. As a project of GreenBlue, the SPC is ultimately governed by the charter and Board of GreenBlue. The Executive Committee is an advisory committee to GreenBlue and the SPC Director. In this advisory capacity, they provide strategic and fiscal guidance on meetings, events, projects, and all aspects of the Coalition. The Executive Committee is required to have a minimum representation from the supply chain and elections are held once a year in the fall. Members serve three-year terms.

Here is a list of the current Exec Committee:

Scott Ballantine, Packaging Project Manager, Microsoft

Alan Blake, Associate Director, Procter & Gamble

Scott Carpenter, Senior Research Engineer, SC Johnson

Humberto Garcia, Packaging Manager Ice Cream and Beverages, Unilever

Sara Hartwell, Environmental Specialist, U.S. EPA

Lance Hosey, President and CEO, GreenBlue

Jennifer McCracken, Environmental Manager, HAVI Global Solutions

Shanna Moore, Sustainability Director, DuPont

Karen Proctor, Professor, Rochester Institute of Technology

Gerald Rebitzer, Sustainability Leader, Amcor Flexibles Europe & Americas

According to the SPC website,

…The SPC 2010 Executive Committee elections will be held online following the Fall Members-Only Meeting and each member company is entitled to one vote. There are three positions open in this election. The terms are for three years, beginning in October 2010. We are required to have at least one Executive Committee representative from each of these major supply chain groups that make up the majority of SPC members. These groups include: Material Manufacturer, Packaging Converter and Brand Owner/Retailers.

At the meeting in Phoenix last week I was introduced as a candidate for this election, along with the other nominated parties. My face was also in the brochure with a small bio, which was sort of funny. Check it out here: http://sustainablepackaging.org/uploads/Documents/SPC_Fall_2010_EC_Committee_Nominees.pdf.

Granted I am very excited and honored to be nominated for this Committee, I honestly don’t think I even stand a chance as most of those who I am running against have been in the sustainable packaging industry for longer than I have been alive! I actually feel kind of silly to be listed alongside these truly outstanding people as I have so little experience; oh well, now is not a time to get sheepish—if I don’t get nominated this year there is always next year and the following year and the following year etc. until I am as experienced and renowned as those who have won a seat on this coveted Committee. Three cheers for perseverance!

And, this is totally ridiculous but AWSOME: An industry-friend who is also running for the Exec Committee sent the following email to those parties vested in the outcome of the election; HILARIOUS!

Subject: Exec Committee Elections … maybe this isn’t for prime time but I thought I’d kick it over to those of you I know for a laugh

Hello fellow SPC members

As some of you may know, I have been nominated by at least … oh, I don’t know, a hundred people or so for the exec committee at the SPC. I have developed some great relationships with many of you as we travel in small circles within the sustainable packaging community.  From sitting across each other and watching the tumbleweeds blow down the aisle at the Wal-Mart expo, touring stinky MRF’s as members of SERDC, hiking around Asia on the US Delegation for ISO and making fun of some of the applications on the GreenerPackage judging committee.

But, the purpose of this email is to talk about something much more serious.  Now, I’ve been told to run a clean campaign and I intend to do so but there are some things going on with some of the other candidates that I must bring to your attention.

 Why, just the other day someone sent me this snapshot of Chandler Slavin.

Upsetting, I know. I thought I knew chandler well but it appears that she has a few stamps on her passport to Kabul and I just don’t know what to say.

The author of the email then goes on to display silly pictures of all the other candidates running, followed by a “vote for me” call to action. Why I outta…

Sustainability logo design update:

Dordan has finally decided on a sustainability logo, which was developed in an attempt to brand Dordan’s 2011 Sustainability Efforts. We are in the process of polishing it up prior to giving it to our web designer for incorporation on Dordan’s homepage. Look out for our new logo in the upcoming weeks; I hope you like it!

Traditional Dordan logo redesign:

We have currently put off plans to re-do Dordan’s traditional logo (4 D’s) because, as I moved into the position of Marketing Manager this summer, I began to feel as though we/I had bitten off more than is chewable, or something like that. Also, to transition Dordan’s traditional aesthetic to a new one right before Pack Expo may be confusing for those just starting to become familiar with the Dordan brand, as this is the first year since the eighties that we have done any branding marketing in the form of print ads.

National TV Show update:

In a recent post, I described how Dordan was contacted by a National TV Show that is looking to do a series on Sustainable Business Solutions for the 21st Century and was interested in covering Dordan’s Story to Sustainability in a 5 minute segment, hosted by an entertainment personality. After several interviews and conversations between me, Dordan’s CEO, and the Assistant Producer of this show, it was explained that we would have to pay a “booking fee” to be featured as a “guest” on this segment. After a lot of reflection, we decided to let this opportunity go; I still don’t know if this was a scam or not…

Speaking opportunity:

Guess what: Yours truly has been invited to present at “Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010” in Atlanta on December 8th-9th about my work on recycling clamshells! Again, for those of you who have not read it, visit http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling to download my report on recycling. This is the result of a year’s research and draws on my involvement with Walmart-Canada, though it is an independent work. It is a concise yet technical treatment of why thermoforms are not recycled in most American communities, with suggestion for the industry. The name of my presentation will be the name of my report (Recycling Report: the truth about clamshell/blister recycling in America with suggestions for industry) and I am required to fill a whole 30 minutes; yikes! While I am getting better at public speaking, I consider myself no pro, so I am actually very nervous about this and plan to practice the yet-to-be-made presentation daily until the presentation itself! Overkill? I think not!

As an aside, I am in the process of copyrighting this Report and spent all day Thursday emailing it to those I thought would be interested in the content. Below is an email from one recipient, who provided the best feedback I have received to-date. While I can’t disclose his name and/or position, he is a governmental official for the waste management industry and has been a featured speaker at two conferences I have attended this y ear about recycling and issues related to extended producer responsibility.

Hi Chandler,

It was great to see you in Phoenix and now after reading your paper (finally!), I wish we had found more time to talk. I actually think this topic would make a very interesting and insightful session at a packaging conference because, as you have done with your piece, it would be instructive as to all the kinds of things that need to come together for any type of package to become recyclable.

Your paper is very thoughtful and well-researched and you clearly hit on the chicken-and-egg dilemma. I think the steps you identified for more information are on target and I believe other folks are thinking the same way. To that end, how much interactions have you had the APR’s rigids sub-committee? Their current activities are revolving around the same issues – the need for data, bale specs, etc. I’ve been a pretty detached member of the committee of late, with a number of other things on my plate (including preparation for the EPR discussions), so I cannot tell you any details about the current work. It strikes me, though, that if you have time and resources to do so, you are a natural to participate in that committee.

Here are some other observations, for what they are worth. I agree with you that achieving critical mass of material is the leverage point of recyclability. For thermoforms, we may have to accept a regimen for at least awhile of MRFs generating mixed rigid plastic, non-1 and 2 bottle bales and relying heavily if not exclusively on export markets for those bales. I think the export market remains pretty forgiving and still hungry for mixed resin bales, resting on the ability of low labor cost markets to do the sortation.

So if there can continue to be the gradual expansion of collection of this material and the marketing of truckload quantities from mostly larger MRFS, eventually there could be enough to attract the development of domestic, mixed resin, mixed product plastic reclamation facilities. These would in turn take pressure off the MRFs to spend capital and make room within limited footprints for more differential sorting and storage, both of which are expensive.

In a nutshell, then, I see the export market as critical to the incubation of material market for non-bottle rigids. There is also a broker[I know] that seems to have a pretty good handle on exporting as he sources different kinds of mixed bales for Asian markets – you might find it interesting to talk to him…

Once again, I think you are being very thoughtful about this whole thing and I commend you for taking on the challenge. You already know there are no easy answers but that hasn’t stopped you from working hard on the issue, which I really admire.

Not sure when our paths will cross again – I’m only going to the packaging shows when I am invited to come. So far apparently I have not worn out my welcome. But if you have the travel time and money, I would recommend thinking about coming to one of the Plastic Scrap conferences or APR meetings. I will be going to the one next March in New Orleans. Maybe I’ll see you there!

All the best!

Rely on export markets, he says…very interesting. I will let you all marinate on this and I will comment on this in a future post.

Below is a list of confirmed speakers for the conference:

  • Arno Melchior, Global Packaging Director, RECKITT BENCKISER GROUP PLC
  • Chandler Slavin, Sustainability Coordinator, DORDAN MANUFACTURING CO. INC.
  • Dailey Tipton, Global Leader of Sales & Marketing, FIRSTCARBON SOLUTIONS
  • Suzanne Shelton, CEO, SHELTON GROUP
  • Michael Sansoucy, National Sales Manager OR Rick Shaffer, President, NETSTAL MACHINERY
  • Patty Enneking, Group Director Global Sustainability and Environmental Affairs, KLOCKNER PENTAPLAST GROUP
  • Barbara G. McCutchan, Ph.D, Associate, PACKAGING & TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS LLC
  • Aaron L. Brody, Ph.D, President and CEO, BRODY INC.
  • Scott Steele, Vice President – Global Analytical Labs, Global Training and Enterprise Projects, PLASTIC TECHNOLOGIES, INC.
  • Dave Clark, Director of Sustainability, AMCOR RIGID PLASTICS
  • Katherine O’Dea, Senior Fellow, GREENBLUE

Walmart-Canada MOC meeting update:

I have been invited to the next MOC meeting at the Walmart-Canada headquarters on November 20th…this also corresponds with the Walmart-Canada SVN meeting, but I don’t know if I will receive approval to attend this event(s) from upper management. I did send my Recycling Report to my co-lead, who forwarded it on to Walmart-Canada’s new sustainability packaging coordinator. I have not heard back from him nor have my notes, which I wrote summarizing the conversation from our last meeting in June, made it through Walmart legal yet…go figure.

GPP meeting update:

I believe my dream of wearing a suit in Paris in the fall has been blown to smithereens as I don’t think I will be allowed to attend the annual meeting of the Global Packaging Project scheduled for October 14th-15th in Paris. Waaaaaa!

Plane tickets are over $2,000.00!

And, the objective of this annual meeting of the GPP is to report on the success of the pilots, which were implemented by various member companies in hopes of determining the feasibility of the recently release metrics for assessing the sustainability of a package. Because Dordan had nothing to do with the development of the metrics or volunteered to test their validity via a pilot, it is difficult to justify sending a representative to this event; I have been arguing, to the dismay of our CEO, however, that it would do wonders for my insight into sustainable packaging metrics, though I hardly believe it will justify the expense!

SOOOO that’s what going on in the world of Dordan; exciting stuff!

And I know I said I would provide a recap of the SPC meeting/present my findings on biodegradable plastics today but I have exhausted my time dedicated to blogging for the day. I apologize!

See you tomorrow! You know they say Tuesday is the most productive day of the week; here’s hoping!

Hello and happy Friday! Oh boy do I have a treat for you!

 As some of my more diligent followers know, I have not been blogging about my work on recycling thermoforms because of other marketing obligations. That being said, it just so happens that I got to kill two birds with one stone: I was given the task of writing my very own white paper on the state of recycling clamshells and blisters in America for our outgoing marketing piece for August! How cool is that! It took a lot of work, but to be honest, once I started, it sort of just flowed out of me. Perhaps researching issues around recycling thermoforms for almost a year allowed for the easy transmission of information. This report is probably the most technical piece I have ever written, aside from my senior thesis on our secular age, capitalism, and the Frankfurt school. If anyone is interested, let me know, only two people have ever read this masterpiece; my professor and myself! Ha!

 So yea, I am pretty proud of this report because it summarizes why thermoforms are not really recycled in America and what we as an industry can do to change it. While I intend on presenting this report to different publications for further exposure in addition to putting it on our website and using it for our marketing, I thought I would share it with you, my packaging and sustainability friends, first! There are some tweaks I still intend on making, and I would love any feedback you can surmise! Also, we still need to put the bells and whistles on it so it looks like a “real” white paper.

 Again, this recycling report is a compilation of my research on recycling with suggestions for our industry.

Check it out!!! Oh, and I apologize but all the footnotes can only be displayed as end notes…

 Recycling Report:

The truth about plastic clamshell and blister recycling in America

With suggestions for the industry

By Chandler Slavin, Sustainability Coordinator,

Dordan Manufacturing Company Inc.

 The axiom “reduce, reuse, recycle,” which for so long represented our industry’s ambiguous approach toward “being green,” has in recent years translated into a quantifiable reality. Such a reality, with the help of EPI[1] and the FTC, is now defined by specific terms and qualifications.[2] For instance, to claim that a package has been reduced, one must demonstrate the overall material reductions resulting from the redesign; to claim that a package is reusable, a system for the collection and reuse of said packaging must be presented with validating evidence; and, to claim that a package is recycled means, contrary to popular belief, that this package is in fact recycled in 60% or more of American communities. While everything conceptually is recyclable, only those types of package/material combinations[3] that are literally collected, reprocessed and remanufactured can be labeled “recycled and/or recyclable.”

With this qualification of terminology came the unraveling of several myths: not only are the high rates for paper recovery attributed primarily to newspapers and corrugagte,[4] those for plastic packaging are attributed mostly to PET beverage bottles and HDPE milk containers.[5] Why are certain material/packaging types recycled, while others are not?

The Economics of Recycling in America:

The answer, like most things, lie in economics: Those material/packaging types that are easy to collect post-consumer, transport, sort, clean, bale, and remanufacture enjoy the likelihood of being recycled because the cost of the resultant “recycled” material is competitive with the cost of virgin material production. For example, because PET bottles are made from high value resin and are “easy” to recycle, the remanufactured resin enjoys a value that allows it to compete with virgin, facilitating the continued recycling of PET bottles. This can also be explained via the chicken and egg analogy: There is no supply if there is no demand; there is no demand if there is no supply. What this means is that a package/material type will not be collected via curb side systems[6] if there is no buyer or end market for this recyclate.[7] Often times, buyers/end markets need high generation i.e. quantity and consistent supply of a package/material type to economically justify the reprocessing of it. After all, a material has to be competitive in the market—why would someone source a package from recycled resin if the cost of virgin is cheaper? This translates into the following relationship between supply and demand in the context of plastic recycling: for a material/packaging type to be recycled, the cost to collect, transport, sort, clean and remanufacture must be competitive with the price of virgin resin production. If the cost to recycle a material/packaging type is too high, which often is the result of ineffective collection/sorting processes,[8] the cost of the product/package for which said recyclate was intended would put the selling unit at a competitive disadvantage in the market. In a country with plentiful landfill space, often times the price to landfill a material/packaging type is much lower than the cost to recycle: this is due in part to the fact that in order to recycle a material, you must first establish a supply and demand equilibrium, develop various technology and make sizeable investment into infrastructure. So what does this all mean for the state of recycling non-bottle plastic packaging, like thermoformed clamshells, blisters trays and components in America?

The Economics of Collecting and Sorting Thermoforms:

Thermoformed packaging is the thin gauged, rigid plastic packaging that is applicable to most consumer product packaging for its visibility, performance and cost. Such thermoform packaging types include clamshells, blisters, trays and components, which can be made from a multitude of different resins, depending on the application of the package. While many thermoforms are made out of high-quality resins, the recycling of such packaging/material type(s) has yet to be implemented on a large scale in America because of the economics of collecting and sorting said thermoforms. Unlike bottles, which are easy to identify via manual and automatic sorting systems, thermoforms come in all shapes and sizes, which makes sorting them difficult, thereby driving up the cost of reprocessing this material/package type. While the SPI ID code on the bottom of most plastic packaging attempts to represent the resin from which the package is made, thereby informing its end of life management, the recent influx of new resins, bio-based resins, barrier-resins and others have made the SPI ID code outdated and confusing. A simple example will make clear the inefficiencies of the SPI ID system: packages made from PET are prescribed with the ID code “1;”however, packages displaying the “1” may also be comprised of PETG, in which the –G lowers the melting point of the PET polymer, disrupting the established reprocessing of PET recyclate.[9] Other examples include packages made from CPET and multi-layer PET containers,[10] which are prescribed with the ID code “1” and have the potential to ruin the PET recyclate for remanufacturing. We will expand on these issues below.

It is also important to note that another complication with sorting thermoforms visually, with or without reference to the SPI code, is time constraints: it is difficult for manual sorters at a MRF[11] to visual identify those thermoforms intended for recycling from those still with no end market when all types of materials are moving down the line quickly. Some MRFs use air blasts to divert PET bottles from other materials thereby reducing labor costs, which would be complicated with the introduction of thermoforms in the recycling stream. The more difficult and time-intensive the process is for the manual sorters to identify the “recyclable” materials from those destined for landfill, the higher the reprocessing costs; therefore, the more expensive the recyclate and the less competitive it will be with virgin material.

In addition, different MRFs have different sorting technologies depending on the materials they collect for recycling; because of the ease of manually/visually identifying PET bottles and HDPE milk containers from un-recyclable materials as well as the high cost of automatic sorting technology, these technologies may not be available at a majority of MRFs.[12] If the investment has not been made in optical sorters or more sophisticated sorting technologies, the MRFs ability to sort thermoforms by material type from those still with no end markets may be time-intensive, resulting in higher reprocessing costs. Therefore, a materials’ ability to be competitive after the cost of recycling depends, in large part, on the technologies employed by the MRFs; and, a MRF will not make an investment in said technology until they can guarantee the supply of and demand for the material the necessary to sustain the continued recycling thereof.

Supply/Demand Considerations:

As alluded to above, the likelihood of recycling a material/packaging type depends on its generation or supply. While very large quantities of PET bottles are manufactured each year,[13] there are not as many clamshells of a single resin manufactured, which makes the collection of an adequate supply of this material/package type difficult and therefore its recycling economically problematic. By understanding the different properties of the available resins, packaging engineers—unintentionally—bombard the waste stream with a multitude of different resins in the form of thermoforms, making it difficult to isolate any one resin in order to collect and reprocess. While food requires its packaging to demonstrate certain properties, like preservation and safety, other products, like consumer electronics, require completely different packaging properties, like impact strength and protection against pilferage. Because of the wide variety of different resins from which thermoform packages are manufactured, it is difficult to estimate whether any one resin is used in a sufficiently high proportion, and would therefore be the most “economical” to collect for recycling. In short: there has to be enough of a specific material/packaging type to economically justify the collection and recycling thereof; and, “enough” is defined by the buyer/end market and is difficult to quantify without conducting research on the generation of the different thermoform material types in the consumer waste stream.

According to the ACC, there has to be about 400 million lbs of a particular plastic for the recycling to be profitable.[14] Fortunately, as reported on plasticstoday.com, 1.4 billion lbs of PET thermoforms were produced in North America in 2008. This data suggests that the recycling of PET thermoforms can be an economically sustainable process; and, as more and more thermoforms transition from PVC to PET the amount of material in the waste stream available for recovery will continue to climb, thereby providing further support for the recycling of PET thermoforms in the context of material generation/supply.

Lastly, industry perspectives suggest that right now, the demand for PC[15] PET material in North America surpasses the supply, 3 to 1.[16]  While I do not know of the validity of this statement, I have witnessed an increase in the desire for recycled PET material for remanufacturing into packaging and products as encouraged by retailers and consumers alike. This interest in increasing the supply of PET recyclate may ultimately facilitate the inclusion of PET thermoforms in the PET recycling infrastructure, allowing the creation of a supply-and-demand equilibrium in the context of PET recycling.

It is important to note that most of our recyclable materials are exported to international markets for reprocessing. According to NAPCOR’s “2008 Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity,” 793.6 millions of pounds[17] of PC PET material was purchased by export markets while 615.5 MMlbs was purchased by U.S. reclaimers. U.S. reclaimers consequentially supplement their domestic purchases by importing 98 MMlbs of PC bottles from Canada, Mexico, and South and Central America. Most PC PET material generated in the U.S. is sold to export markets because export buyers will pay more per pound than domestic reclaimers. Therefore, in order to increase the available supply of PET recyclate in America in order to meet the growing demand, the amount of PC PET bales exported should be limited, domestic markets for the recyclate should be developed, and domestic reclaimers should be more aggressive.

“Specs” and Baling Considerations: 

“Specs” are the documented qualifications a buyer/end market outlines to the supplier of PC material upon procurement. As alluded to above, these specs often times depend entirely on the end use of the recyclate: If the buyer/end market is a bottler, the PC material has to meet one set of specs; if the material is intended for thermoformed packaging, it has to conform to another; and, if the material is used in non-packaging applications like industrial piping, imitation timber, etc., it has to demonstrate compliance with another set of specs. It is assumed that the highest valued recyclate(s) are those materials generated via closed loop systems; by remanufacturing bottles from bottles or thermoforms from thermoforms, the value of the PC material is not diminished after reprocessing. However, if bottles are recycled into polyester fiber applications, the value of the recyclate is diminished because it does not have to conform to as stringent specs during reprocessing, which often times results in a lesser-grade resin with a diminished market value when compared to its virgin form. In summary, the more stringent the specs, the higher value the recylate and the more likely the end market attempts to “close the loop” of the material/package type.

Specs for thermoform bales need to be created if we intend on the future inclusion of thermoforms in the recycling infrastructure. Without a buyer/end market and therefore specs, these material/packaging types will not be collected post consumer and sold for remanufacturing. When creating specs, one must consider the way in which the desired material “bales.” If a material/packaging type cannot be economically collected and baled, as in the case with expanded polystyrene[18], than it is difficult to justify the recycling of it because again, the economics don’t support the process. Concern in the industry has been voiced in regard to the way to bale thermoforms for reprocessing: due to their differing densities, geometries, and often times materials, it is difficult to come up with a uniform bale for market, especially when no specs for thermoform bales exist, to my knowledge. Therefore, investment must be made into the development of specs for recycling thermoforms, including specs for baling, which again, rest entirely on the end-market/buyer. We are back to the chicken and the egg insofar as no one will create specs for thermoform-only bales or PET thermoform/PET bottle bales if there is no buyer/end market and there will not be a buyer/end market if there are none of these materials available for market.

Contamination Considerations:

Like any procured packaging material, the value depends on its ability to conform to the specs of the buyer/end market. Those instances in which the recyclate does not meet specs is generally the result of contamination issues; contaminates are a recycler’s/reprocessor’s number one obstacle. Simple design changes to thermoformed packaging, modeled after those advocated by the APR’s Design for Recycling Guidelines for PET bottles,[19] could decrease the likelihood of contaminates in the thermoform recycling stream, resulting in lower reprocessing costs. However, this all depends on the approach one takes to recycling thermoforms. Based on research, it is evident that there are two popular approaches for recycling thermoforms. The first, like the Starbucks cup recycling pilot that integrated the fiber-based cups into the existing and efficient corrugate recycling stream, would be to integrate PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. By piggy backing on an already sophisticated recycling process, the PET thermoforms would only have to demonstrate to recyclers/reprocessors that they do not contaminate the PC PET material, which will again, depend on the specs of the buyer/end market. The second approach is to recycle all thermoforms together, resulting in a low-grade plastic mix suitable for application in a multitude of products. Another approach, which would require supply-chain collaboration and industry-led initiatives, would be for manufacturers of thermoforms to restrict the number of resins used and/or to make the thermoforms easy to identify by resin type to facilitate efficient sorting/recycling. Such actions could allow thermoforms to be recycled together (after being sorted by resin type) and still maintain high levels of quality. This approach, however, receives some criticism because it requires a new labeling/identification system for resins in addition to placing limits on what resins are available for thermoformed packaging.

According to Hurd in “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Plastic Recycling,” bales of a single resin, like PET, enjoys more PC value than mixed resin bales, described above as a low-grade plastic mix. Therefore, it appears as though the inclusion of PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure would yield the highest value PET recyclate available for application in a multitude of end markets. If this approach is taken, however, many “contamination” issues need to be addressed, which again, could be presented in a Thermoform Design for Recyclability document. However, these considerations apply if the end market of this mixed thermoform and bottle PET recyclate is for remanufacturing into RPET bottles, food-grade packaging, or other high end packaging applications that require exacting specs and contamination-free bales. If intended for use in down-cycled applications, like decking, such considerations would probably not be necessary; however, this is contingent on the specs of the buyer/end market, as previously discussed. Known contaminates to PET recycling are: PVC, PET “look-a-likes” like PETG, described above, colors, barrier resins, laminates, inks, adhesives, food, etc.

What we can do:

Where do we go from here? As illustrated above, the recycling of thermoforms depends on the ability to collect, transport, sort, clean, bale, and remanufacture material into new products in an economically competitive way. Issues such as adequate supply/generation, demand i.e. who is the buyer/what is the end market, investment in sorting and reprocessing technologies, etc. need to be address if we as an industry plan on the inclusion of thermoforms in our recycling infrastructure. Because recycling is a business, it is our responsibility to nourish it through supply chain collaboration and industry-led initiatives. The infrastructure is weak; we must collaborate if we intend to make it strong.

Below is information that I believe is needed to begin work on recycling thermoforms in America:

  • Determine how much non-bottle plastic packaging is generated in America by resin and packaging type.
  • Determine how much non-bottle plastic packaging is recycled in America and where it goes/what it becomes.
  • Determine if anyone is recycling thermoform-only bales and if so, what kind of sorting technologies are employed, what are the specs, and what is the end market of the recyclate?
  • Determine if anyone is recycling PET thermoforms with PET bottles and if so, what kind of sorting technologies are employed, what are the specs, and what is the end market of the recyclate?

Next is my understanding of the actions that are needed to begin work on recycling thermoforms:

  • Encourage producers to set minimum PC content in their packaging and retailers to insist upon it from their suppliers.
  • Work with MRFs to develop more efficient sorting systems for thermoforms and/or encourage industry collaboration for the development of an “easy” way for MRF’s to visually identify the different thermoform material types as they move down the line, facilitating efficient sorting and lower reprocessing costs.
  • Work with municipalities to generate investment in sophisticated sorting technologies.
  • Determine the technical feasibility of recycling PET thermoforms with PET bottles regardless of the various grades.
  • Develop Design for Recyclability Guidelines for Thermoforms, which would decrease the amount of contaminates in the thermoform recovery stream i.e. no PVC labels on PET thermoforms.
  • Develop local markets for PC resin, be it material extruders, converters, product producers, brand owners, retailers, etc.
  • Educate consumers and the industry about the importance of recycling plastic packaging.
  • Limit the amount of PC PET bales exported.
  • Encourage that the types of resins used in the manufacturing of thermoforms be limited in order to generate large quantities of different material types available for recovery post consumer.

Author’s note:

The information presented in this document is the result of a year of research, drawing on the work of APR, NAPCOR, SPC, among others. Proper documentation is provided. However, this is not meant to be an exhaustive study on the topic and does not represent the views of the industry as a whole.

About the author:

Chandler Slavin is the co-lead of the PET Subcommittee for Walmart-Canada’s Material Optimization Committee, which looks to increase the diversion rates for PET packaging post-consumer. She is the primary contact to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and oversees all of Dordan’s sustainability research and efforts. To learn about her day-by-day efforts to recycling thermoformed packaging, visit her blog at:  http://www.recyclablepackaging.org/.   


[1] EPI stands for Environmental Packaging International, which is an organization that specializes in extended producer responsibility/product stewardship requirements. For more information, visit http://www.enviro-pac.com/indexM.htm

[2] The FTC first issued its “Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” commonly called “Green Guides,” in 1992 in hopes of educating marketers how to make environmental marketing claims without being deceptive or manipulative. These Guides were revised in 1996 and 1998 and are currently under review. For more information, visit http://www.ftc.gov/opa/reporter/greengds.shtm.

[3] This terminology, “packaging/material combinations,” “types of packages/material combinations,” etc. mean that for a package to be recycled, one has to specify the packaging type i.e. thin neck bottle versus plastic tub, and the material type i.e. PET versus HDPE. It is the desired material and packaging type combination that provokes a packages’ ability to be recycled. The need to specify the specific packaging type i.e. bottle versus tub is because, often times, sorting is done manually and it is easier and therefore cheaper to visually sort similar looking packages than independently inspect every SPI resin ID code, which are confusing and in the process of being reviewed. 

[4] According to the EPA’s 2009 report titled “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States Detailed Tables and Figures for 2008,” “other paper packaging/other paperboard packaging” has no recovery data (listed as Neg.), which suggests that most fiber-based packaging is not recycled. The high recovery rates attributed to paper are therefore the result of newspaper (87.6% recovery) and corrugate (76.6% recovery) recycling. To download the report, visit http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf.

[5] 28% of HDPE milk containers were recycled in 2007 (U.S. EPA 2008); 27% of PET bottles were recycled in 2008 (NAPCOR, http://www.napcor.com/PET/pet_reports.html).

[6] Curb side systems are one type of collection method employed by municipalities in their waste management strategy. In curb side collection systems, consumers place those materials intended for recycling on the curb for pickup. There are many different types of collection methods, which are often informed by the economics of the waste management system. Other collection examples include drop-off recycling centers, buy-back centers, and returnable container legislation/bottle bills. Information from “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Plastic Recycling,” by David J. Hurd, Associate Director, BRONX 2000 ASSOCIATES, INC., 1809 Carter Avenue, Bronx, NY 10457 for WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY, TRADE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT’S CLEAN WASHINGTON CENTER, 2001 6th Avenue, Suite 2700, Seattle, WA 98121, CONTRACT # S97-220-028.

[7] End markets/buyers are not the only determinants for what package/material types are collected for recycling. Often times, municipalities enter into long-term contracts with haulers in order to lock in rates, which can sometimes lead to materials with high-end value not being included in the system because an old contract.

[8] The high cost to recycle some package/material combinations is also attributed to the following situations, in addition to inefficient collection and sortation: packaging design without thought to recycling, subsidized raw material costs, inexpensive foreign labor for virgin manufacturing vs. high domestic labor costs for collection, sortation etc., misc. technical barriers, and, the financial outlay for infrastructure creation.

[9] Hurd, “Best Practices…”

[10] 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. Information from “Best Practices…”

[11] MRF stands for material recovery facility, which is where haulers bring those materials intended for recycling for sortation and baling for reprocessing.

[12] Automated sorting systems employ a detection, or combination of collection systems, to analyze one or more properties of the plastic passing through and automatically sorts these materials into several categories, either by resin type, color, or both. There are three different types of detection systems used in the sortation of plastic bottles: Optical sorting systems use visible light to separate plastic bottles by color. This is called near infrared (NIR); transmission technologies pass a signal directly through the bottle, which 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); and, surface scanning devices bounce signals off the surface of the bottle, which are reflected back to the sensor for identification. 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). Information from Hurd’s “Best Practices…”

[13] According to NAPCOR’s “2008 Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity,” the total number of pounds of PET bottles and jars available in the U.S. for recycling in 2008 was 5.366 billion. Download the report at: http://www.napcor.com/PET/pet_reports.html.

[14] Plasticstoday.com.

[15] PC stands for post-consumer.

[16] Perhaps an example will make clear that the demand for PC PET exceeds the available supply: According to a plasticstoday.com article, Coca-Cola’s plant bottle capped its PC content at 30% in North America, due to limited supply.

[17] Hereafter, MMlbs

[18] EPS is 98% air and 2% resin, which makes the collection/transport of the material costly. 

[19] Guidelines available for download at: http://www.plasticsrecycling.org/technical_resources/design_for_recyclability_guidelines/index.asp

Hello and happy Friday!

And we are back on recycling!

Below is my summary of the Association of Post Consumer Recyclers’ Design for Recyclabilty Guidelines for beverage bottles. The APR does a great job, so I suggest reading the whole report here:

 http://www.plasticsrecycling.org/technical_resources/design_for_recyclability_guidelines/index.asp

For a play-by-play, however, check out my summary below. I feel as though a similar document must be created for PET thermoforms if we ever intend on integrating them into the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. By having PET thermoform Design for Sustainability Guidelines, we could work towards overcoming a lot of the obstacles currently sited as deterrents for the inclusion of said packaging in the PET bottle recovery scheme, like the “look-a-like” syndrome, additives and barriers, adhesives, etc. I honestly see a lot of overlay between these Design Guidelines for PET bottles and my conception of what the Design Guidelines would be for PET thermoforms.

Enjoy!

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers

Design for Recyclability Program, Summary

Objective of Guidelines: “To assist plastic bottle designers and fabricators in constructing bottles for specific product applications that are compatible with the broadest range of recycling operations and to enhance the quality and quantity of postconsumer plastic packaging materials” (APR, p. 2).

Design for Recyclability Guidelines, Overview:

  1. Reclamation:
    1. The two most important factors in all reclamation operations are yield and quality.
    2. Any attachment to a plastic bottle, such as closures, closure liners, base cups, inserts, labels, pour spouts, handles, sleeves, safety seals, coatings and layers can impact the recovery rates of the base resin i.e. the resin the bottle is made from, by reducing yield and increasing recycling costs.
    3. These attachments, when not compatible with the base resin being recovered, represent a significant cost to the processor in terms of separation, recovery and waste disposal, and can have an adverse affect on the quality of the PCR produced (APR, p. 7).

Average Reclaimer Yield Values

BOTTLE TYPE                                                                                BASE RESIN YIELD (%)

Two-piece PET soda bottles (w/base cup)                                         65-75 (PET)

One-piece PET soda bottles & custom PET bottles                       75-85 (PET)

Natural HDPE bottles (e.g., milk, water)                                           85-95 (HDPE)

Pigmented HDPE bottles (e.g., soap, detergent)                          75-85 (HDPE)

PVC bottles                                                                                                                  85-92 (PVC)

PP bottles                                                                                                                        85-95 (PP)

Granulation & Air Classification:

    1. Granulation & air classification are generally the first steps in the reclamation process. Following sorting by resin type, whole bottles are ground to a particular size that best suits the reclamation process…Most granulation systems employ an air classifying technique to separate “light” materials such as labels from the heavier base resin being recovered.
    2. Granulation loosens plastic and paper labels and begins to free other attachments that might be on a bottle. Excess glue on labels or attachments has a detrimental impact on granulation and “lights” removal. This increases the cost of reclamation by decreasing the wash cycle yield (APR, p. 8).
  1. Washing:
    1. Washing the ground flake is the next step in most reclamation operations.
    2. Labels, label inks, adhesives, base cups, closures, closure liners, inserts, layers, coatings, or other attachments that may be present in or on the bottle affect washing efficiency and effectiveness.
    3. Labels, labels inks and label adhesives should all be chosen carefully in order not to cause the base resin to be adversely affected.
    4. Labels can contaminate the base resin material; label inks can bleed into the wash water tinting the PCR product; and, label adhesives that can’t be removed can coat the plastic regrind and embed unwanted contaminates.
    5. Adhesives used to affix other attachments can be difficult to remove and should be applied sparingly (APR, p. 8).
  2. Separation
    1. Most conventional reclamation systems use waster in sink/float by hydrocyclone systems to separate the base resin from attachments and contaminants based on differences in the density of the different materials used. 
    2. Plastic resins with densities greater than 1.0 can be separated from resins with densities less than 1.0 in water. However, resins with similar or overlapping densities are difficult to separate in these systems. For example, resins with densities greater than 1.0 cannot be easily separated from each other i.e. PVC from PET.
    3. It is therefore important when selecting plastic resins for attachements or components in a bottle design to avoid any such overlap, or to make them from the same base resin in the same color as the bottle (APR, p. 8).

Density Range of Key Plastics and Closure Materials

MATERIAL                                                                                           DENSITY (g/cc)

PP                                                                                                             0.90 – 0.92

LDPE                                                                                                        0.91 – 0.93

HDPE                                                                                                        0.94 – 0.96

PET                                                                                                           1.35 – 1.38

PLA                                                                                                           1.24 – 1.27

PVC                                                                                                          1.32 – 1.42

PS                                                                                                             1.03 – 1.06

Aluminum                                                                                                        ~2.10

PET bottles (Carbonated Beverage, Water, and Custom Bottles):

  1. Color:
    1. Unpigmented PET has the highest value and the widest variety of end-use applications.
    2. Transparent, green tinted bottles have the next highest value.
    3. Transparent light blue bottles are often included with green or clear streams successfully.
    4. PET bottles with other transparent tinted colors may have limited recycling value and may be considered contaminants by many PET reclaimers.
    5. The use of translucent and opaque color is problematic for many recycled PET end uses because of contamination. In particular, Ti02 is very detrimental to PET recycling for bottle-to-bottle and engineered resin uses.
    6. Inclusion of nucleating agents, hazing agents, fluorescers, and other additives for visual and technical effects should be examined specifically by the reclaiming industry for impact on the overall plastic bottle recycling stream (APR, p. 11).
  2. PVC Attachments:
    1. The use of PVC attachments of any kind on PET bottles is undesirable and should be scrupulously avoided. These attachments generally include, but are not limited to closures, closure liners, labels, sleeves, and safety seals. Very small amounts of PVC can severely contaminate and render large amounts of PET useless for most recycling applications.
    2. In addition, PVC is very difficult to separate from PET in conventional water-based density separation systems, due to similar densities that cause both to sink in these systems (APR, p. 11).
  3. Closures/Closure Liners:
    1. Plastic closures made from polypropylene are preferred to all others, as they are most easily separated from the bottle in conventional separaton systems and create an ancillary stream of recyclable material.
    2. Closter systems that contain no liners and leave no residual rings, or other attachments, on the bottle after the closure is removed are also preferred.
    3. While the use of EVA closer liners in plastic closures is acceptable to many reclaimers, EVA liners can cause contamination problems when used in aluminum closures.
    4. Although tolerated by many reclaimers, the use of aluminum closures should be avoided, as they are more difficult to separate from PET bottles compared to the preferred closure systems (PP, HDPE, LDPE) and add both capital and operating costs to conventional reclamation systems.
    5. Closures made from PS or thermoset plastics are undesirable and should be avoided.
    6. Silicone polymer closure parts are discouraged as they may present significant technical problems in the process of recycling and to the usefulness of the recycled plastic (APR, p. 12).
  4. Sleeves & Safety Seals:
    1. The use of tamper-resistant or tamper-evident sleeves or seals is discouraged as they can act as contaminants if they do not completely detach from the bottle, or are not easily removed in conventional separation systems.
    2. If sleeves or safety seals are used, they should be designed to completely detach from the bottle, leaving no remains on the bottle.
    3. The use of PVC sleeves or safety seals should be avoided.
    4. Foil safety seals that leave foil remnants or attaching adhesive on the PET bottle should be avoided (APR, p. 12).
  5. Labels:
    1. PP, OPP, PE, or other label materials that float in the water are preferred to all other label materials.
    2. Shrink labels with perforations to facilitate separation from bottles are the preferred label systems.
    3. Label materials should not delaminate in the reclaimer’s wash system.
    4. Paper labels are undesirable and should be avoided as they increase contamination in the PET due to fiber and adhesive carry-over through the reclamation process.
    5. Metallized labels increase contamination and separation costs and should be avoided.
    6. In general, the use of plastic labels with a specific gravity of less than 1.0 are preferable for easy removal in conventional water-based density separation systems (APR, p. 12).
  6. Inks and Adhesives:
    1. Some label inks bleed color when agitated in hot water and can discolor PET regrind in the reclaimation process, diminishing or eliminating its value for recycling.
    2. Pressure sensitive labels should be water soluble or dispersible at temperatures between 140 to 180 degrees F in order to be removed in conventional washing and separation systems.
    3. The use of other adhesive types is discouraged and should be avoided.
    4. Adhesive usage and surface area covered should be minimized to the greatest extend possible to maximize PET yield and avoid contamination (APR, p. 13).
  7. Direct Printing/Decoration:
    1. Presently, all direct printing other than date coding, either for product labeling or decoration, contaminates recycled PET in conventional reclamation systems and should be avoided. The inks used in direct printing may bleed ink or otherwise discolor the PET during processing, or introduce incompatible containments. In either case, the value of the PET for recycling is diminished or eliminated (APR, p. 13).
  8. Barrier Layers, Coatings & Adhesives:
    1. Some PET bottle designs require the use of barrier layers, coatings or additives to meet the requirements of specific product applications.
    2. Additives to PET bottles, including scavengers, which cause the PET to discolor and/or haze after re-melting and solid stating, should be avoided unless means are readily and economically available to minimize the effects.
    3. Blends of PET and other resins are undesirable unless they are compatible with PET recycling.
    4. The use of non-PET layers and coatings are undesirable and should be avoided, unless they are compatible with PET or are easily separated from PET in conventional recycling systems.
    5. The use of EVOH, nylon-based, epoxies, amorphous or “diamond-like” carbon, and silicon oxide barrier layers or coatings is currently tolerated be most reclaimers provided the layers-coatings readily separate and can be isolated or have been shown not to be a problem for the reclaiming process.
    6. The use of degradable additives may result in shortening the useful life of the bottles of which they are a part and therefore affect the ability of such bottles to be recycled.
    7. Degradable additives should not be used without an evaluation confirming that their expected use will not materially impair the full service life and properties, including successful recycle and durability, for the next use of the recycled bottle (APR, p. 13).
  9. Base cups/Adhesives:
    1. The use of base cups is undesirable and should be avoided, as they reduce PET yield and increase separation costs.
    2. If base cups are used, the use of unfilled HDPE or clear PET is preferred to all other materials.
    3. The use of other adhesive types is discouraged and should be avoided (APR, p. 14).
  10. Other Attachments:
    1. The use of any other attachment is discouraged.
    2. If any other attachments to a bottle are used, they should be made from HDPE or clear PET.
    3. The use of RFID’s on bottles, labels or closures is discouraged and should be avoided unless they are compatible with PET recycling and are demonstrated not to create any disposal issues based on their material content (APR, p. 14).
  11. Non-detaching Components:
    1. The use of non-detaching bottle components, including monomers, which are not made from PET, must either be compatible with or easily separated from PET in conventional recycling streams (APR, p. 15).

And for fun, below I have attached my most recent understanding of what needs to be determined if we wish to recycle PET thermoforms.

YAY!

Action Plan:

  • Because the demand for PET recyclate exceeds the supply thereby driving up costs for said recyclate, the collection and therefore supply of PCR PET must be increased to facilitate the continued usage thereof.
  • According to a contact, the collection and therefore supply of PET recyclate could be increased as follows:
    • Incorporating PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure;
    • Limit the amount of PET recyclate leaving the country;
    • Impose bottle deposit legislation.

This action plan focuses on the first suggestion; that is, incorporating PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure:

  • We must determine if it is feasible to recycle PET bottles and PET thermoforms together;
  • If feasible, we must determine who is collecting PET thermoforms with bottles for recycling and at what quantities;
  • We must determine what specs exist for mixed PET thermoform and bottle bales;
  • We must determine where these mixed PET thermoform and bottle bales are going i.e. what is the end market of this recyclate?
  • We must determine what sorting technologies are necessary for the separation of PET thermoforms from “look-a-likes;”
  • We need to create local markets for mixed PET bottle and thermoform recyclate.

If it is not feasible to recycle PET thermoforms with bottles, we must determine if it is economically feasible to create a new stream of thermo-grade PET recyclate.

  • We must determine at what quantities, the recycling of PET thermoforms is economically sustainable;
  • We must determine who is collection PET thermoforms for recycling and at what quantities;
  • We must determine what specs exist for PET thermoform-only bales;
  • We must determine what sorting technologies are necessary to isolate PET thermoforms from other “look-a-likes;”
  • We need to create local markets for PET thermoform recyclate.

That’s all for today my packaging and sustainability friends.

But get excited: Yesterday I spoke with the Education Directory of the U.S. Composting Council about what kind of compost would work best for us; he put me in contact with a woman who has been down the zero-waste road before, so expect a lot of good content to come. As a teaser, think waste audits…oh boy!

Tootles!