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.

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

Good afternoon world! Thought I would catch you all before the late-afternoon slump, which is when I am accustomed to blogging. Second cup of Joe, here I come!

Today’s post takes a slight detour from the world of recycling: I wish to briefly discuss how one quantifies the environmental benefits of sourcing packaging material from recycled resin versus virgin; and, the associated environmental burdens of using inks, laminates and adhesives on fiber-based packaging.

First, the environmental benefits associated with making packaging out of recycled resin versus virgin is kinda a no brainer…one would assume that sourcing post-consumer material yields environmental benefits when compared with sourcing virgin. Luckily, the Franklin Associated recently determined that recycling plastic significantly reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. According to their work, the generation of cleaned recycled resin required 71 trillion Btu less than the amount of energy that would be required to produce the equivalent tonnage of virgin PET and HDPE resin (Killinger, ACC). In other words, the amount of energy saved by recycling PET and HDPE containers including bottles in 2008 was the equivalent to the annual energy use of 750,000 U.S. homes. The corresponding savings in greenhouse gas emissions was 2.1 million tons of C02 equivalents, an amount comparable to taking 360,000 cars off the road (Killinger, ACC). You can download the full report here:  Final Recycled Resin HDPE PET Life Cycle Inventory Report.

So this is great because it finally provides justification for moving into PET and RPET packaging as that is the most readily recycled and recyclable. However, how do we show how this data actually impacts the LCA of a package? In other words, if I wanted to measure the environmental benefits associated with sourcing my packaging from RPET as opposed to PET, how would I?

And enter COMPASS, which is the SPC’s packaging environmental life cycle modeling software, which allows you to compare the “footprint” of different packaging materials and types in the design phase. Now that Franklin has provided LCI data about RPET used in packaging, COMPASS should be able to integrate the data into its software, thereby allowing users to compare packaging made from recycled PET versus virgin.

Here’s the email I sent to the creator of COMPASS:

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well.

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components?

Thanks for your time.

Chandler

And his response:

Hi,

See below.

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well. Thanks doing well indeed. And you?

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell. As you may know, we do not add data until they are third party verified. There has been a lot of activity on the data front of late and the data verification is coordinated by the EPA, and rPET and rHDPE are among them. Once we get the go ahead, we will begin work to model the data for COMPASS. This is anticipated to start towards the end of Q3 2010.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components? The secondary materials you mention may indeed be of concern and they are on our radar, however, since GreenBlue does not collect primary LCI data, we cannot add information until they become available and are verified. There is a lot of talk in the industries about the need for such data, and the best way to convey the information. We may have spoken on this before, but coatings, inks, glues etc are generally used in a very small quantity relative to the primary materials, and the existing display mechanism may need to change to record the results for the secondary materials. Also, since LCA is not a very good mechanism for conveying toxicity, the entire secondary materials module may require some detailed thought prior to implementation. I do not have a timeline for these materials as yet since much of the work in preliminary talk stage only.

Groovy…

I then sent a similar inquiry to another contact who knows a thing or two about sustainable packaging metrics and modeling software:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing. I hope this email finds you well.

At the meeting, a participant asked if you intended on including any metrics for the inks, laminates and adhesives used in many fiber-based packaging materials. You replied that unless you had scientific evidence that illustrated that such a metric had an impact on the overall environmental profile of a given package, you did not intend on including said metrics in the Scorecard.

I found the following statement in the U.S. E.P.A.’s TRI (Toxics Release Inventory) report, 1996:

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

Download the report at: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf

That being said, what are your thoughts on the inclusion of some type of metric that would attempt to quantify the environmental burdens associated with the utilization of inks, laminates, and adhesives on packaging?

Thank you for your time.

Chandler Slavin

And her response:

We aren’t opposed to including but we need to have details on what to include and how much they impact the total Life Cycle of the package.  In studies that I have seen on packaging the impact by these materials to the total package LCA are small in comparison than other parts like production of raw materials and transportation.  Prior to us adding to the scorecard we would need the data proving they are a big portion of the LCA and publicly available LCI to add to the scorecard.

Thanks for reaching out sharing some of your questions and concerns.

Hmmmmmm…

I replied the following:

During the meeting, you and your team discussed the ambiguities surrounding the “sustainable material” metric and participants articulated the desire for a “material health/toxicity” metric, in addition to, or as a component of, the “sustainable material” metric. Have you and your team given any thought to the inclusion of such a metric that does not rely on an LCA-based approach, but another “mechanism for conveying toxicity?”

I look forward to your response; thanks again for your time!

And her response:

Yes, we are analyzing the GPP metrics through the Pilot process as discussed at the meeting. 

She then provided me with a link to their website and other pertinent information; what a doll!

The GPP is the Global Packaging Project and it is super awesome! It looks to provide global metrics for quantifying the environmental profile of a material, packaging type, conversion process, etc. Tons and tons of CPGs and retailers and manufactures and packaging converters are members of this organization. I believe they are currently in a pilot phase, which is attempting to collect LCI data from primary processes.

I reached out to a representative from the GPP and she was really nice. She told me about their work and provided me with access to said work—I feel like I hit a gold mine! Unlike the Scorecard, the GPP will cover a multitude of different metrics, toxicity being among them. SOOOO I guess I am definitely not the only one interested in this and eventually, we will have much more thorough tools to measure the environmental repercussions of our packaging purchasing decisions.

Consequently, it’s only a matter of time until the greenwashers get phased out. I feel like we are in the Wild Wild West of packaging and sustainability and that eventually, some governance will come to maintain order—hopefully the GPP.

AND GUESS WHAT: The GPP is having a conference in October in PARIS. That’s right, Paris, the most romantic city in the whole wide world. I would kill to be able to go; hopefully I can make a good enough case for my Superior to consider it…

The last email that I sent along this theme was to the wonderful Robert Carlson of CalRecycle.

I wrote,

Hello there!

Question: why is an LCA-based approach not appropriate for trying to quantify the environmental ramifications of secondary materials i.e. inks, laminates and adhesives? In addition, what “other mechanisms” exist for quantifying these ramifications? How do you foresee the inclusion of this information in environmental modeling tools going forward?

Do chemical manufactures have to report their releases to the US EPA? If so, where/how can I access this information?

AND, I was reading the back of one of our competitors’ packages and the following verbiage was displayed: “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” WHAT THE WHAT? What is this, where can I find out more?

Thanks buddy!

And his response:

Ok…let me try to take this piece by piece and see what I can help you with:

As far as the competitors’ package goes, there are LOTS of chemicals that require that warning, it’s all part of prop 65 (see the attached PDF for the complete list and their website http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html ).  There is very likely a Material Safety Data Sheet available for that product…you might check on their website.

As far as manufacturers reporting their emissions to US EPA…I’m not really sure but I don’t think they do generally.  There are very likely specific situations that are regulated and are required to report emissions to EPA…but I’m not familiar enough with them to tell you which ones are required to be reported on.

Now…on to the meat of your question…the inks, laminates and adhesives…  I’m not sure what you meant with the comment that LCA is not a good mechanism for conveying toxicity…  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that usually LCA don’t get into exposure…  If a product emits 1.2 grams of a toxic substance, that’s all that is reported…it doesn’t really get into whether it’s emitted close to people, if people have long contact time with it or short, if sensitive sub-populations are exposed or not, if the toxin is persistent or not, if workers are exposed or consumers, etc…  That may be what was meant…  It could be that a combination of an LCA (to determine the releases at various points in the process) and a toxicological assessment of some kind (to determine exposure and risk assessment) would be a better way to approach LCA for these kinds of materials.

 There are always data gaps…there always will be.  To some extent, you can’t measure what you don’t know…  BUT somebody has to collect that data!  Eventually!  So somebody is going to have to step up and foot the bill…the problem of course comes in the sense that nobody trusts industry and government is broke…

How’d I do?  Make any sense???

You did wonderful, Robert, thanks!

That’s all for now. Tune in tomorrow to learn more about packaging and sustainability and the feasibility of recycling PET thermoforms in North America.

Tootles!

PET exports and EPR?

June 22, 2010

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends! It is great to be back. The wedding was a wonderful affair; everyone had a gay ole time!

Look how pretty the Bride is, who coincidently, is this sister of the author of this blog!

My sister is such a beautiful bride!

I’m so proud!

Anyway, enough emotional embellishments, let’s get down to business.

Prior to leaving for the wedding, I sent out a boat load of emails, inquiring into this and that. The first I sent was to my contact in the government who works on waste management policy: I inquired into the amount of plastic bales exported out of the country each year. Because the supply and demand balance is a bit disproportionate in North America (HUGE demand; limited supply due to limited collection and quality), a colleague suggested limiting the amount of PET recyclate that leaves the country. Here’s what I wrote:

Greetings my friend!

Hello!

How goes it?

Do you know how much plastic scrap is exported in Canada each year? Do you know of any legislation or initiatives that look to restrict the amount of plastic bales leaving the country? Or, better yet, do you know anyone that would know this information that you could refer me to?

In addition, your MetroWaste calendar said it no longer collects thermoforms via Blue Box program. Is this true? If so, do you know why? Do you have any contacts at MetroWaste that would be able to explain why certain materials are collected and others are not?

Thanks my lady!

Best,

Chandler

And several hours later, I received the following response:

Chandler,

To answer your questions – we would have no clue how much plastic is exported from Canada every year. To be honest, we have a hard time tracking how much waste is exported, and that’s better tracked than recyclables. The closest we have is a 2007 report from Waste Diversion Ontario, which attempted to track the fate of residential blue box materials. You’ll see that they had many gaps in information, and were only looking at residential materials, not IC&I. But you might be able to find something in here http://www.wdo.ca/files/domain4116/Review%20of%20Blue%20Box%20Material%20Destinations%20Report%20Dec%2014,%202007.pdf   

As for my waste calendar (and to clarify, it’s for the City of Toronto. Metro Waste is a private company), yes it’s true that they aren’t accepting thermoform plastics, and when I called the general city hotline they told me they haven’t accepted them for awhile. I’m not sure of the exact reason, but I’d guess that it’s because they take up lots of space, are difficult to sort, don’t have great end markets, etc. You know the usual. I got a name of someone at the City you could call though…

Have a good weekend!!

The Metro Waste calendar my contact was referring to is literally a calendar, which is distributed to residence of Toronto and explains what materials/packaging types are collected for recycling and what are not. While staying at my friend’s house in Canada, I had the luxury of pursuing said calendar and was surprised to learn that the Blue Box program does not collect thermoforms. I found this surprising because several food-packaging thermoformers have recently released press pieces that explain how they will now be buying, cleaning, and extruding thermoforms into second generation thermoforms. How is this true if Canada, which has a much much better packaging diversion rate, doesn’t even collect and bale these materials for post-consumer market?

And, for your viewing pleasure, I thought I would include some of OUR EPR legislation. This stuff comes from California and helps put into context the way some of this legislation works. You can subscribe to this organization so you receive updates of all EPR legislation in California; oh boy!

—–Original Message—–

From: EPR@calrecycle.ca.gov [mailto:EPR@calrecycle.ca.gov]

Sent: Thursday, June 17, 2010 8:00 PM

To: cslavin@dordan.com

Subject: CA Product Stewardship Bills: Legislative Update

CalRecycle Extended Producer Responsibility

This is an update on the product stewardship bills in the California Legislature.  This information is constantly changing.  Bills may be tracked at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov.

– SB 1100 (Corbett) Product stewardship: household batteries. Introduced Feb. 17, 2010.  Last amended June 15, 2010.  This bill would require producers of household batteries to, among other things, submit, individually or through a stewardship organization, a product stewardship plan to CalRecycle.  This bill is active and currently in the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials.

– AB 1343 (Huffman) Solid waste: architectural paint recovery program.  Introduced Feb. 27, 2009.  Last amended in the Senate on July 13, 2009. This bill would create the Architectural Paint Recovery Program and require paint manufacturers to, among other things, develop and implement a program to collect, transport, and process postconsumer paint to reduce the costs and environmental impacts of the disposal of postconsumer paint in California.  This bill is currently held under submission in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

– AB 2139 (Chesbro) Solid waste: product stewardship. Introduced Feb. 18, 2010.  Last amended June 1, 2010. This bill would create the California Product Stewardship Act and would require, among other things, CalRecycle to submit a report to the Legislature with recommendations on products to include in a product stewardship program.  This bill failed passage from the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is no longer active.

– AB 2176 (Blumenfield) Hazardous waste: lighting products. Introduced Feb. 18, 2010.  Last amended April 22, 2010.  This bill would create the California Lighting Toxics Reduction and Jobs in Recycling Act and require producers of certain lamps to, among other things, submit a stewardship plan to the Department of Toxic Substances Control. This bill is currently held under submission in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

– AB 2398 (Perez) Product stewardship: carpet. Introduced Feb. 19, 2010.  Last amended on May 28, 2010.  This bill would require, among other things, carpet manufacturers to submit, individually or through a stewardship organization, a product stewardship plan to CalRecycle.  This bill is active and currently scheduled to be heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on June 28, 2010.

-The CalRecycle EPR Team

To subscribe to or unsubscribe from the Extended Producer Responsibility listserv or other listservs, please go to http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/listservs.

While this legislation obviously does not concern packaging, it does help—at least for me—convey how these concepts may be applied to packaging waste in the future.

Tune in tomorrow to learn about, or attempt to learn about, how to quantify the environmental burdens associated with using inks, laminates and adhesives on fiber-based packaging applications. Its certainly is confusing!

Thanks for listening! My blog has had over 1,300 views! I feel like Julia from Julia and Julia! SOOOO exciting!

Hello world!

So Canada is awesome. Toronto has the most amazing waste management system EVER. Check it:

You have to pay depending on the size of your garbage can; the bigger the can, the more you pay.

The result: tiny garbage cans and huge recycling bins.

Monetary incentive facilitating public action? I think so!

AND they have a bin for organic waste.

AND they provide bags for “electronic waste.”

So, unlike me, who, upon discovering a facility in the far South side of Chicago accepted electronic waste, drove around and around trying to locate said facility, local Torontonians simply place their e-waste in the wonderfully provided designated bag. What a life!

So yeah, it was really cool to see how waste is managed in Canada, which has some EPR legislation in place. I don’t know who is making money, if any, off the system (usually costs municipalities money to recycle), but something is definitely working right…

Here is what I learned; get excited!

It is in fact very possible to recycle PET thermoforms and bottles TOGETHER!!!!! So, all those who articulated reasons why the two packaging types were incompatible for remanufacturing together (i.e. different IVs, melting temps, molecular length, etc.) were misinformed! Hurray! And the clamshell recycling initiative rises from its grave!

This is positively wonderful news. If we can recycle PET thermoforms with PET bottles, than the value of the recyclate will remain higher than if PET thermoforms were recycled with other plastic materials, thereby constituting a low-grade plastic mix. From what I understand, bottle-grade PET is the highest grade, or enjoys the most inherent value. If PET thermoforms are made out of bottle-grade PET like ours are (supplier-certified 100% PCR PET), then they TOTALLY can be baled with PET bottles and sold together for remanufacturing into any of the following: new RPET bottles (more expensive reprocessing, need to clean resin for FDA-certified food compliance), new RPET thermoforms, any polyester-based fiber application, plastic strapping, and a TON of other products.

AND I spoke with a gentleman that runs a MRF and he concluded that they do collect and bale PET bottles and PET thermoforms together for market. AWSOME.

I wonder how much of these mixed PET bales are generated…?

I wonder what the specs of the mixed bales are…?

However, a working industry group recently conducted a pilot to test the integrity of these mixed bottle and thermoform bales and concluded that the adhesives used on labels on PET thermoforms compromised the recycled material. While I am a little hazy on the details, it was reported that the recycled material was unacceptable for market because of the adhesives, which are considered a “contaminant” to the overall integrity of the recyclate. Soooooooo I guess what this means is that:

  1. PET bottles and clamshells can be recycled together; yippee!
  2. Packaging suppliers need to begin to design thermoform PET packaging “for recycling.” While the APR has guidelines for designing bottles for recycling, no guidelines exist for designing thermoforms for recycling. Such guidelines could suggest things like:
    1. The adhesive used for binding labels and other marketing information to PET thermoforms needs to be X or can’t be Y or something to that effect.

I am looking forward to learning more about the results of this pilot; it is just so cool that people are interested in this, too. And here I thought I was all alone…

After speaking with another gentleman who knew a thing or two about a thing or two, I understand the current climate of recycling in North America to be as follows:

There is a HUGE demand for PET recyclate from bottlers, brand owners, and CPGs; however, there is not enough SUPPLY due to limited collection. This supply and demand disproportion can be solved, perhaps, by implementing the following actions:

  • Implement bottle deposit programs/legislation—this would provide consumers with an economic incentive to recycle their PET bottles.
  • Incorporate PET thermoform packages into the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. I like this oneJ.
  • Limit the amount of PET bales that are exported each year.

The ACC estimates that 400 million pounds of a particular plastic needs to be generated in order for the recycling of it to be profitable. According to Plasticstoday.com, 1.4 billion lbs of PET thermoforms were generated in North America in 2008. This implies that PET thermoform bales could constitute a recycling steam all on their own, without piggy-backing on PET bottles. However, perhaps it’s easier to integrate them into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure than create a new stream of PCR PET, thermoform grade? Now I just don’t know…

Tomorrow is my birthday and this Saturday is my sister’s wedding! Therefore, I will be unbloggable until early next week. But stay tuned, there is a ton of interesting stuff I need to report to you!

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.

Hey!

So in yesterday’s post I talked about an article I read on greenerpackage.com that dissapointed me due to its unfounded anti-plastic stance. I  included a letter that I had intended on sending to the disseminator of said anti-plastic stance because I didnt want to call him out in the public forum that is greenerpackage.com; however, our CEO wanted me to post a rebuttal to his comments on greenerpackage.com, so this reductionistic stance on plastic can begin to be confronted.

Here we go:

Comments: 1

0 minutes ago, Chandler Slavin wrote:

After reading the above article titled “Paper media packaging for Kodak licensee removes 98% of plastic,” I believe that KMG Digital’s Mike Golacinski may be misinformed. Speaking on behalf of a plastic thermoformer, we are disappointed when we stumble across the proclamation of misinformed or unsubstantiated environmental claims about plastic packaging. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to analyze these anti-plastic environmental claims with hopes of facilitating an honest dialogue about packaging materials and sustainability. Only when we understand the reality of the situation will we begin to make more informed packaging material procurement selections that are based on science, and not ambiguous claims.

Consider the following statement: “Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to eliminate plastic packaging that produces greenhouse gases and clogs our landfills…”

First of all, the assumption that plastic packaging produces greenhouse gases is misplaced. Almost every product and service produces GHG equivalents during production and throughout the life cycle. Let’s clarify what “greenhouse gases” mean:

According to the 2009 report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the largest factor contributing to global warming is increased greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, halocarbons, and soot. Therefore, when making claims of GHG emissions, it is helpful to indicate which chemical you are referring to, as each packaging material procurement and conversion process releases different GHG equivalents, based on the methods used.

In addition, not only should GHG equivalents generated be consideration when procuring packaging materials, but other metrics, like water discharges, air pollutants, and OSHA carcinogens should be taken into account.

While I have not been able to find the necessary data to do an apples-to-apples comparison between the GHG equivalents emitted during the production of 1,000 lbs of fiber-based packaging materials versus those emitted during the production of 1,000 lbs of a common packaging polymer, the most recent Toxics Release Inventory data released by the U.S. E.P.A. explains the following:

…Pulping processes are the pulp and paper sector’s primary source of air emissions and water discharges of pollutants. Chemical pulping (to digest a material, typically wood, into its fibrous cellulose constituents) is the most widely used pulping method (85% in 1991). Kraft chemical pulping, an alkaline process whose active components are primarily sodium sulfide and sodium hydroxide, is the sector’s greatest source of air pollutants.

…For many paper grades, bleaching follows pulping. Traditional chlorine bleaching generates chlorinated byproducts—chloroform, dioxins, furans—that pose particular environmental concerns for their persistence, bioaccumulatability, and toxicity.

…Methanol or “wood alcohol,” is the chemical with the largest TRI releases (principally air emissions) from this sector. Methanol is formed in the chemical pulping process as wood chips are “cooked” to dissolve the lignin bonds that hold cellulose fibers together…Methanol in air reacts to form formaldehyde, contributing to air pollution…119.8 million pounds of methanol were released from the pulp and paper sector in 1996.

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

…Pulp and paper releases…of chemicals designated as OSHA carcinogens totaled
18.9 million pounds in 1996. The large majority (17.7 million pounds) was released to air. Three of the top 15 chemicals for on- and off-site releases in the pulp and paper sector are OSHA carcinogens: chloroform, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde. These three chemicals accounted for 16.4 million pounds of the 18.9 million pounds of OSHA. The OSHA carcinogens with the next highest on- and off-site releases were dichloromethane (746,000 pounds) and asbestos (571,000 pounds).

…[In summary,] The pulp and paper sector reported a total of 1.60 billion pounds of TRI chemicals in production-related waste for 1996

Please visit: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf to download the most recent TRI report for the paper and pulp industries.

Second, the assumption that plastic packaging “clogs our landfills” is also misinformed: According to the Container and Packaging Municipal Solid Waste data released by the U.S. E.P.A. in 2007, 52% of landfills are comprised of paper products. In addition, in the MSW report released in 2008, “paper packaging/other paper packaging” has no recovery data (“Neg.”), which implies that paper packaging does not often get recycled, contrary to popular belief. Please visit: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf. On page 5 of this document you will find a break-down of the different paper products that are recycling in America: as this table illustrates, the high recovery rates for paper are attributed primarily to newspapers (87.6% recovery) and corrugated boxes (76.6%).

I apologize if the tone of this post is a bit aggressive; I am not trying to make anyone uncomfortable I just wanted to take advantage of this public knowledge exchange medium with hopes of elevating the dialogue around issues pertaining to packaging materials and sustainability. While there is a lot of confusion surrounding the sustainability of plastic packaging, I am confident that the science will catch up, the dialogues will evolve, and packaging professionals will begin making more informed packaging decisions based on sound science and not marketing claims.

In a nut shell: The anti-plastic mentality conveyed in the statements made by representatives of KMG Digital is unfounded in the scientific community and to use it to promote paper over plastics is not good for any company involved in packaging from an economic, social, political, and environmental perspective.

So yeah…that’s that. Questions, commments, concerns?

AND I am about half-way finished with my report on PET recycling for Walmart Canada–it is about 6 pages; my brain is about to explode!

See you tomorrow!

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!