Ok, so I think I have dragged out the inevitable long enough. And resume recycling narrative:

Ring…Ring…

“Good Morning Dordan this is Sarah how can I help you? One moment please…”

Beep. “Chandler, Waste Management on Line 1…”

“Thanks.”

Suddenly I realized that this was the call I had been waiting on for almost 7 weeks: the results of our RPET clamshell samples’ test via the MRFs optical sorter. If our supplier-certified 70% post-consumer regrind PET clamshell packages are “read” like PET bottles via the recovery facility’s optical sorter, then perhaps we could integrate our clamshells into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. If anything, the results would tell us if one of the many obstacles facing the inclusion of PET/RPET clamshells into the PET bottle recovery stream is NOT the inability to sort these two packaging types together.

I reach for the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey Chandler!”

“Hey, nice to hear from you; how’s it going?”

“Great, thanks. I have the results from the MRF regarding your samples.”

“Ok, what are they; did they pass with the bottles?”

“Yes, there was no difference between the PET bottles and RPET samples as read by our optical sorter. So if RPET clams and PET bottles were moving down the line together, there would be no luminescent difference between the bottles and clams as they moved through our plastic sorting station. Again, the main point of the optical sorter is to see the difference between PVC and PET bottles, which look dramatically different when viewed via the optical sorter.”

“This is wonderful news!”

“Well, keep in mind that regardless of this, buyers of baled PET bottles DO NOT want clams in the mix.”

“And this is because fear of contamination, different IVs and perhaps melting points, no specs for mixed bales and on and on…?”

“Pretty much hit the nail on the head.”

“Well, I really appreciate you and WM going out of your way to help us figure this stuff out. We just want to recycle our packages—didn’t know how complicated it is!”

“Well we wish you the best of luck with your recycling initiative. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you…”

“Truly, thanks again.”

“No problem; take care.”

“You too!”

I hung up the phone.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm…what does this mean, I asked myself?

I think it means that the molecular structures of clamshell RPET and bottle PET are the same, at least was read via the optical sorter.

So how will this help us recycle our RPET thermoforms?

It illustrates that the reason RPET clams are not recycled with bottles has nothing to do with an inability to sort the two packaging types together. So if our RPET clams and PET bottles are read the same, they could be collected and baled, with no need for different sorting technology.

Good to establish, Chandler.

Suddenly I snapped out of my internal discussion; my two colleagues were waiting tentatively outside my cubicle, eager for the results.

“They passed!” I said.

“Sweet!” they replied in unison.

“So what does this mean for us?”

“Haha, I’m not quite sure yet…”

Tune in Monday for a summary of the different obstacles hindering the inclusion of RPET clams in the PET bottle recovery stream. Once established we will move on to discuss how the following determine the recyclability of a material/packaging type: supply, demand, and technology.

Have a splendid weekend! Its Friday, woop woop!

Recap # 1: Toronto

April 15, 2010

Hello world!

It’s been so long since my last post, I almost don’t know where to begin!

Well, Toronto was awesome!

Pretty!

The Canadian retailer has a very nice facility with even nicer employees. The  Committee I will be working with basically looks to increase the recycling rates of several hard-to-place materials; those of specific focus where PS/EPS, PET (thermo-grade and bottle-grade) and bio-based resins.

When the meeting began we went around and introduced ourselves. I was super nervous because, as I am reminded again and again, I am young and considerably new to the “business world.” Being surrounded by really accomplished people in the industry was very intimidating, motivating me to keep my mouth shut, observe and learn.

The pre-reading material for the Committee described the current plastic packaging waste generation in Canada. It is broken down as follows:

  • Plastics represent 7-8% of the residential waste stream;
  • Plastic packaging represents 81% of total plastics found in the residential waste stream;
  • Plastic bottles account for 31% of the total plastics packaging generation. This is followed by:
    • Non-recyclable film at 29%,
    • Recyclable film at 19%,
    • Polystyrene at 10%,
    • Wide mouth tubs at 6%,
    • Other rigid plastics 5%.

WOW I thought to myself as I read over the statistics…only 5% of the 7-8% of plastic packaging that is in the residential waste stream is attributed to thermoforms i.e. other rigid plastics? Is that even enough material to reach the “critical mass” necessary to find an “end-of-life” market for thermoforms? The reason I ask is because if there is not enough quantity of these materials/packages types in Canada to create the critical mass necessary to find a buyer post-consumer, is my clamshell recycling initiative going to DIE? UG, I hope not!

And then consider the following:

I was reading good old Plastics News and came across an article about a new plastics recovery plant opening later this year in England, which looks to reprocess plastic from automotive shredder residue.

Author Esposito writes, “The slow journey of recycling in the U.S. is a bit frustrating…since the country generates THE MOST ELECTRONIC WASTE IN THE WORLD—more than 21 million pounds per year.”

Founder and President of this recovery facility explains: “One of the issues in the U.S. is that there’s no electronic collection infrastructure…And some that we do gather is sold overseas. The U.S. has more mines of plastic than any other country—it’s amazing that we don’t use it” (Michael Biddle, MBA Polymers Inc.).

For the full article, please visit: http://plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=10031501901&q=MBA+moves+toward+being+global+recycler.

Several things jumped out at me while reading this article: First, is how misplaced the current anxiety of waste management is on single-use disposable packaging when trendy consumer electronics go unnoticed, although from a pure quantity standpoint, they blow plastic packaging out of the water in the context of waste generation. I am not trying to point the finger at any industry, product, or what not; what I am trying to imply, although not very discreetly, is that plastic packaging is being targeted as a manifestation of our over-consumptive society while other products, specifically, consumer electronics, are marketed as innovative, young, and anything but environmentally malevolent. Hmmmm…

So this got me a’thinkin…I am sorry to run on this tangent but a girl has got to do what I girl has got to do:

Perhaps the best way to go about this recycling initiative is to work with a large consumer electronics company that buys a lot of clamshell packaging. If they have implemented any product stewardship initiatives, like Dell ink with their shipping envelopes, then perhaps they would be interested in working with their packaging suppliers to “close the loop,” per se.

I envision the relationship like this:

Company X makes a ton of cell phones for the American market; they buy Y amount of clamshells yearly, all of which end up in a landfill. Because of the increased pressure on producers to consider the end-of-life management of their products/packages, perhaps we could develop a partnership where Dordan would provide all the clamshell packages to company X under the agreement that if returned to our facility, we would regrind them and reprocess them into next generation clamshells. The only logistical problems would be enticing the consumer to bring the packages back to a store or drop-off location (perhaps company X could offer a point-rewarding system similar to Recycle Bank) and then funding the shipment back to our plant…

So, if any CEOs of super-powerful consumer electronic companies are reading this blog, we should get lunch!

Ha!

Ok, where was I before my thought-baby…OH the Committee in Ontario:   

Below are my notes from the meeting. Enjoy!

  • Background: The Committee focuses on increasing the recovery rates of several hard-to-place materials in Canada. In Canada, Stewardship Ontario requires “producers” to fund 50% of the packaging waste management of the products they sell. The Committee is the first time a powerful retailer has gathered people from along the supply chain to honestly investigate the obstacles keeping some materials out of the recovery stream: This retailer has the power to influence the packaging sold in Canada via purchasing power.
  • We spent a lot of time discussing the “scope” of the Committee’s goals (increase diversion rate to X% by Y date):
    • All of Canada?
    • Province-specific?
    • Retailer in-house waste only?
    • This retailer has over an 80% waste diversion rate of in-house waste management. This ROCKS!
    • Post-consumer, post-industrial, or both?
  • Determined scope/goal:
    • Scope: RESIDENTIAL and NATIONAL
    • Goal: Harmonize products on shelf with recovery infrastructure
  • Material 1, PS:
    • PS is 98% air 2% resinàbecause of its density there is no economical way to COLLECT the material for recovery (shipping a truck of air exceeds value of resin).
    • Demand is for DENSIFIED PS.
    • Purchase a densifier for each municipality
      • Cold densifier: Don’t need an air omissions certificate;
      • Thermal densifer: Do need an air omissions certificate;
    • Drawbacks: Expensive and pay back depends on QUANITY.
  • Material 2, PET
    •  “Thermoformers can use bottle-grade PET but bottles can NOT use thermo-grade PET.”
      • Why: Different IV’s and fear of contamination
        • Carbonated soda drinks use one IV, water bottles use another, thermos use something else, etc. AND one PVC clam in a bale of bottle-grade PET contaminates the entire feedstock for reprocessing.
      • Also, a chicken and egg syndromeàthere is no end-market for thermo-grade PET because the quantity isn’t there; but the quantity isn’t there because it is not collected because there is no end-market.
      • Solution: Identify end market FIRST; collect thermoforms and conduct pilot to determine the quality of mixed material.
      • Mimic the corrugated recovery specs: Corrugated council conducted testing on alternatives to OCC compliance and determined that 21 alternatives to corrugated can be recycled along with corrugated.

We actually didn’t spend much time on bio-based resins, aside from discussing the appropriate vernacular for describing this new family of agriculturally-based resins. For the record, the proper language is “bio-based” polymers as cellulous is a bio polymer of a different sort and therefore the distinction should be advocated to eliminate confusion in the market. Good times.                                                                           

I met two girls from the Ministry of the Environment; they were super cool and gave me a ride back to the city, thereby saving me some 90 odd dollars. They were both policy girls, which means they spend a lot of time on issues of waste management and product stewardship. We hit it off because shared interests and because they sat next to me and I am a chatty Cathy, especially when nervous and out of my element.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow’s post will describe my experiences at the Walmart Expo in Arkansas.

Thanks for listening! And thanks Canada!

Bye Bye!

Day 25: Nov. 20th, 2009

March 9, 2010

Goooooood day! I finally finished my report on Extended Producer Responsibility/Product Stewardship. Look out for it at www.dordan.com under the sustainability tab!

Let us resume our clamshell recycling initiative narrative:

The next day I arrived to the office feeling much better having received Robert’s insightful email. I felt as though my journey of discovering an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging was slowly making progress. I had established that if our RPET packages are “read” like PET bottles via the MRF’s optical sorting technology, we could integrate our RPET packages into this recycling infrastructure. I also learned that we could develop a new market for mixed rigid plastic packaging post-consumer (that is, non-bottle grade plastic material), as is often the case in CA. I wonder which would be more cumbersome…Ha!

To my surprise, I received an email from the Environmental Director at Starbucks, responding to the email I sent yesterday.

Chandler,

Thanks for the email.

I am traveling in Los Angeles this afternoon and won’t return until Friday evening. I will be in the office next week, so please feel free to give me a call at your convenience. The best time to catch me is between 7:30 and 8:00 on weekdays, before meetings start up.

Cheers!

GROOOOOVVVVVVYYYYYYY. It looks like I may get my interview after all! My father, who is also coincidently the owner of Dordan, told me “not to hold my breath” about actually getting to speak with the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Not to be a jerk, but I love proving him wrong, at least for the better.

And another beneficial development: I had several responses to the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com about trying to recycling non-bottle PET thermoforms. The most insightful was from the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, who I discussed briefly in an earlier post.

Check it out:

The Plastic Recyclers Viewpoint…

Posted on behalf of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR):

Back when the world was younger and more uniform, there was one fairly simply defined PET resin used for 2 liter soft drink bottles. PET makes an excellent 2 liter soft drink bottle. Then more packagers wanted to use PET bottles for other products with other needs. The result today is that the PET used for bottles encompasses a range of molecular weights and potential additives.

Thermoformed packaging made from PET may use similar resin as is used for bottles or may use even lower molecular weight (lower IV) plastic. The technical needs for thermoformed packaging are not necessarily the same as for bottle packaging. There is an overlap in IV ranges used for bottles and for thermoformed sheet. Does the potential for IV difference preclude recycling the two forms together? No. End use markets dictate how significant are the differences for recycled plastics from different first uses. Are there additive conflicts? Unlikely, but not assuredly.

So why the reluctance to include thermoforms with PET bottles? There are at least two current reasons. First, the risk of serious contamination is great. A thermoform of non-PET can visually look like PET and be a huge problem. Think inclusion of PVC with the PET. This problem has been a showstopper in North America. In China, hand sorting can overcome the problem if the resin code is accurate. The second problem is a materials handling problem. Crushed thermoforms do not behave like crushed bottles. They do not “fly” the same in autosorting equipment and they do not bale the same. If bales are made too dense, the material does not process as efficiently as it should. Adjusting to the differences takes time and effort.

Does this mean PET thermoforms cannot be recycled? No. Thermoforms are recyclable, once we get through the growing pains of special needs and critical mass. Would sustainability be better served by switching all thermoforms to a different material? Probably not as non-PET, non-polyolefin resins are even more problematic in being accommodated in existing collection and sorting systems.

So why are multiple resins used? In some cases that decision is for aesthetic or performance reasons. Usually, economics dominate. And sometimes tradition keeps on happening. As has been the case for bottles, there does seem to be a gravitating by decision makers to a few resins. The challenge is to develop the infrastructure that allows for efficient handling and sorting to useful resin categories and then to develop markets for those categories.

This response was written by Dave Cornell, Technical Director for APR. For more info on the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, including published Design for Recyclability Guidelines, www.plasticsrecycling.org

Posted November 19, 2009

Radical! Design for Recyclability Guidelines, eh? Sounds right up my alley. Time to do some more research!

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!

Day 23: Nov. 17th, 2009

March 3, 2010

Its sunny today, which in Chicago in March is no small feat!

Sorry if today’s post seems repetitive…if you hadn’t noticed, I am trying to describe my attempts at finding an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging as a story, a narrative of sorts, which moves chronologically through time on the vehicle of email exchanges between myself and others in the plastics, sustainability, and recycling industries. I realized that I had omitted an email exchange between myself and Robert Carlson of the CA EPA from November 16th, so I edited yesterday’s post to be more “real.”

Because Robert with the CA EPA seemed extra-curious about what I meant by “I have so much to tell you,” I sent him the following email upon my arrival to the office on November 17th:

Hey Robert,

So here’s the update on everything:

I have been talking with various people in WM, SPI, SPC, etc. to determine what the feasibility is of establishing: (1) either a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packages or, (2) integrating our RPET packages (non-food) into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure.

In regard to the former option: This seems more difficult to implement in the near future because the quantity is not there, as is the case with PET bottles. Moreover, because of all the different materials in various kinds of plastic packaging (food, medical, consumer goods), it is difficult to collect enough of any one material to find an end market for it. At the same time, however, I am cooking up an idea where we would form a partnership with a retailer in order to provide them with guidelines for all plastic packaging. Our guidelines would dictate that all plastic packages sold at this retailer would have to be of the same type of material, in order to establish the quantity necessary to find an end market for it. We could even go so far as to require customers to open their consumer goods’ packages in store and place the plastic and paper components into collection bins, to be hauled away by a contracted third-party. I believe they do this at some European retail chains. I am trying to find more information on the logistics of this approach.

There is also the option to “down-cycle” as you put it. I have a dialogue going with a rep from Polyflow who explained that they would buy mixed rigid and flexible plastic packaging, with or without food contamination, and convert it to gasoline diesel fuels. I have attached a white paper from Polyflow, which discusses its capabilities. Apparently, the cost to landfill is comparable to the cost to process this unwanted material in the Polyflow facility. I know you explained why this option is seen as less superior to recycling but I believe that this may be a better option for the polymer industry, especially as new additives and materials emerge on the market. Please see the attached sheet, if interested, and let me know what you think of this as an option for waste management.

In regard to the second option: As you alluded to, PVC packages are a problem because they contaminate the PET waste stream. I received a similar perceptive from an anonymous non-profit, who explained that plastic packages, even if PET or RPET, are not recycled because of the possibility of having a PVC package get into the bale. What I don’t understand, however, is where are mixed rigid packages even collected for recycling where the PVC contamination would be an issue? My rep at WM explained that buyers of baled PET bottles don’t want plastic packages (clamshells) in the bales because the possibility that one may be PVC. This, however, implies that there could be a market for rigid plastic packages (PET, RPET) outside of the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. Do you know where or by whom mixed rigid plastic packages are collected for recycling?

Currently, I have sent out 50 RPET clamshell samples to my contact at WM to run through their optical sorting technology to see if our RPET material is compatible with the PET bottle material (same IVs and what not). If so, we could maybe find a buyer of a mixed bale of PET bottles and RPET plastic packages (non food). After all, we have certification from our suppliers that our RPET has a minimum 70% recycled content (from PET bottles); therefore, one would assume that our material would be very similar to the PET bottle material and as such, have an end market because the quantity is already there, we are just adding to it. Moreover, if we can ensure that our plastic packages are compatible with the PET bottle material, we may be able to have our material supplier buy the mixed baled PET bottles and RPET packages to be reground and sold back to us, thus being closed loop.

I am still waiting to talk with the Environmental Director at Starbucks in regard to how the buyers of baled corrugate are dealing with the introduction of a new material (coffee cups). I believe we have a similar situation with buyers of baled PET bottles—they don’t want to introduce a new type of product (RPET clams, blisters, etc.) into their collection protocol.

We also just subscribed to COMPASS, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s comparative life cycle packaging assessment tool, which allows us to see the environmental ramifications of our material choices in the design phase; cool beans!

AND, I am kicking off a new marketing campaign for Dordan for 2010—I’ll keep you posted!

So that’s that. How are things with you? What is making you so busy?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow to see where my recycling initiative takes me next!

Day 19: Nov. 5th, 2009

February 24, 2010

That Monday I arrived to the office more motivated than when I had left; how can I find a way to recycle clamshell—and more specifically—thermoformed, packaging?

As I waited for feedback from the SPC in regard to what they thought about the feasibility of finding an end market for non-beverage PET flake, the phone rang, and the receptionist transferred the call to my fine cubicle.

“Jessica with Waste Management is on line one,” she announced.

I picked up the line.

           …five minutes later….

Jessica was super cool; she is Dordan’s contact at Waste Management who manages our waste and recycling contracts, and wanted to reach out to me because she knew I had been talking with various Waste Management employees about my initiative. And, she also provided another crumb: She suggested that I contact another Major Account Representative in IL to discuss the feasibility of my initiative; she provided his name and number.

I called him that day, eager for some direction.

Ring…ring…ring…

“Hello?”

            …ten minutes later…

Hurray! A bigger bread crumb!

Apparently, what a plastic cup manufacturer in the Midwest had recently done, and he encouraged us to do, was send off some of our RPET clamshells to a Waste Management Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to see if their optical sorting technology would “read” our material like it reads the material in PET bottles. If the sorting technology couldn’t tell the difference between our RPET and the PET used in beverage bottles, then the material is close enough to theoretically be integrated into PET-beverage bales. In other words: the material is the same, which makes sense, because our RPET is certified at a 70% post-consumer regrind concentration, which means 70% comes from PET-beverages and 30% comes from virgin PET resin, give or take. Basically, if we thermoform material made out of bottles, why wouldn’t our packages then be compatible with this optical sorting technology.

The Account Representative offered to run our samples through their optical sorting technology to see if the problem with recycling non-beverage PET is due to sorting capabilities. Great!

He forwarded me the address of the MRF.

That day, I grabbed 50 of our sample as they came off the machine. Still warm with the heat from being formed, I placed them in the mail to go out with today’s post.

Groovy.

I sent the Account Rep the following email, confirming shipment.

Hey,

I just wanted to drop you a quick email letting you know that I sent out a box of 50 RPET clamshell samples to the address you provided for you to run through your optical sorting machine to see if they are compatible with the PET bottle material. If so, we can try and find an end market for our RPET clams, blisters, and thermoformed components.

Just out of curiosity, do you know where I can find information on who has optical sorting technology and where? Moreover, do you know who collects mixed plastic (that is, the plastic left over after the PET bottles have been removed) for material recovery and where?

Thanks again for all your help! I look forward to speaking with you again.

Best,

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Day 17: Nov. 2, 2009

February 22, 2010

After being copied on an introductory email to the plastics marketing rep of Waste Management, I called him, hoping he would be able to provide some clarification into why clamshells are not recycled in most American communities.

This is how I summarized my conversation with the plastics marketing rep of WM to Robert:

Hey Robert,

I spoke with the plastics marketing rep from Waste Management about the feasibility of finding a market for non-beverage PET flake (the educational director at WM said that the buyers of PET specify that they don’t want PET clams in the PET beverage bales) and he said that the economics don’t support it. In other words, because of the different properties of the different types of PET (RPET, REPTG, APET, etc.), buyers of balled PET only want bottles as they have the same properties and therefore can be recycled into a new product with the same properties i.e. the green plastic cables that are used to strap components together. Also, the quantity is not there, as in the case with PET bottles, so finding a market for PET clams doesn’t seem possible in this economic environment. However, on the east and west coasts, there is a market for “non-traditional” rigid containers insofar as China will buy them to regrind and make new product.

I feel as though I have been shot! I am cooking up another idea, however, that looks to work with a retailer OR a consumer electronic producer.

The plastic rep from WM said I should look into PLA (he said that it can degrade in a landfill?) or waste-to-energy. I know how you feel about “down recycling” but he told me of a company in Madison, Wisconsin, that takes “non traditional” plastics i.e. films, foams, etc. and blends them with coal to produce steam to create electricity. He said that this is cheaper than landfilling and that the energy is being used to power U of W.

What is a plastic thermoformer to do in order to become more sustainable? Now that I have shelved the recycling idea, I don’t know the next best place to look…

If you have any insight, please let me know!

Again, thanks for all your help; I am very glad I met you!

Oh, the bitter taste of defeat.

The plastics marketing rep of WM is the one who is responsible for finding a supplier and buyer of post-consumer plastic material. Therefore, he is the guy who would be able to explain why there is no buyer of non-beverage PET flake (RPET and PET thermoforms). This is what he told me:

There is no buyer of non-beverage PET flake because no one has every invested the time or money necessary to set up this infrastructure, find a buyer, outline the specs, etc. As WM has become more sophisticated, we have been able to recycle a lot more materials than previously recycled; therefore, non-bottle PET is just another material that we are working towards being able to recycle but have not done so successfully yet.

The reason buyers of PET bottle flake do not want PET/RPET thermoforms is because of the possibility of contamination (one PVC clam could contaminate the whole bale), and the different IV between PET bottle grade and PET thermoform grade, which makes for differences in the way things “fly” and “melt” while being repossessed.  

Okay… this seems complicated but not that complicated. I know from previous conversations with Robert that most cities in California accept and recycle plastics 1-7 because of the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, which requires local governments to reach a 50% diversion rate. This Act, consequentially, has facilitated the creation of new end markets for these materials post-consumer, which unfortunately, is not the case here.

Do we need to have legislation enacted to provide the motivation to find an end market for mixed rigid plastic containers and packages?

I then received the following email from Robert, which was very much needed in this time of defeat:

Chandler,

Try not to be discouraged.  These things take a long time to sort through and creating markets for materials is challenging to say the least!  There isn’t just an answer out there waiting to be found.  These things need to be teased into existence.  They need people (like you) to keep stoking the fire, prodding things along, and creating pressure.  Keep at it and you’ll come up with something that’ll work.  Maybe it’ll be a few things…at first…small scale.  Then maybe one will take off. 

The thing about recyclers is that they like what they know (even with Starbucks, they’re facing lots of concerns from recyclers accepting their cups with corrugated).  They know PET bottles…so they’re nervous about anything else.  Even if it were exactly the same they’d be nervous…so it’d be a matter of either proving through massive testing that it will work the same, or going for another grade of plastic.  If you created a new grade of plastic material with its own unique specifications, then everybody would know what to expect from the start.  Now…you’d have to have somebody lined up who can use that plastic…  It’s a bit of a paradox really…you can’t collect/bale the plastic if there’s nobody to buy/use it, but nobody is going to buy/use it unless there’s a good, steady supply of the stuff with consistent specifications…

Also, PLA will not degrade in the landfill; it requires a commercial composting facility. 

Have you considered moving away from single-use thermoformed containers and into more durable containers?  Can you make durable containers with the same process?  More and more places are feeling the push both from regulators and the public to go green…some are doing it through switching to PLA, some go to cornstarch, and some are going to reusables.  Eat-in facilities rather than take-out.  Options to fill customer’s dishes with food rather than their own single-use containers.  Or even the concept that’s being used with some food manufacturers (deli meats come to mind) where they sell their food product in a container that can be used again and again at home for leftovers…not for refilling its original product…but reused nonetheless.. 

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough!  Don’t give up!!!  We need people like you in industry!!

Robert

What a guy! Tune in tomorrow for more about recycling in America!

Day 16: Oct. 29, 2009

February 19, 2010

Happy Friday! Spring is just around the corner! I hope everyone has splendid plans for the weekend; if you live in Chicago, you should subscribe to groupon.com, which emails you coupons for the best deals in town everyday! I am cashing in on one of them tonight…

Anyway, let’s resume our clamshell recycling narrative:

Grateful for the educational tour guide’s detailed responses to my inquiries about recycling clamshells, I sent her the following email upon arrival to the office:

Hello,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply; I really appreciate it. I am going to investigate the websites you supplied in the email. In the mean time, please feel free to connect me with your plastic rep.

Thank you again for your feedback!

Best,

Chandler

After sending this into the plasma that is the internet, I began going through my inbox, eager to find anything that would continue to provide direction for this clamshell recycling initiative.

The first was from the Sales Director of the SPI, responding to my phone call follow up email:

Chandler,

Sorry to be late in my response.   I am working on putting you in touch with the people who can better answer your questions.   Unfortunately, between vacations and a benchmarking conference we are sponsoring this week, I am having difficulty getting in touch with those people.

However, we will be in touch with you shortly.  

Thanks again for your interest in SPI.

Okay, sounds good. Next I found a response from the APR (Association of Post-consumer Recyclers) in regard to my inquiry about this organization:

Chandler,

Thank you for your interest in plastics recycling and the APR. I have attached a membership application for your review. Please take a look and let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you.

Thanks!

I downloaded and opened the application.

Apparently, depending on your level of engagement with recycling/recycled plastics, different membership categories ensue:

Description of Membership Categories:

  • Full Membership—those companies actively engaged – in North America – in performing physical operations of any kind on post-consumer plastics as part of the process of recycling such plastics. (Please see brochure for detailed definition)
  • Affiliate Membership—companies that do not qualify for Full Membership and that have a direct business stake in the recycling of post-consumer plastics, except brokers. 

Moreover, depending on which kind of membership you apply for, different fees ensure, which is based on your capacity for engaging in the process of recycling post-consumer plastics.

Dordan Mfg. has a closed loop system with its material supplier in which we grind our scrap post-industrial and sell it back to our suppliers to be formed into sheets for future conversion. Therefore, while we do engage in a process of recycling (collecting and grinding our post-industrial scrap), I don’t believe we can qualify for full membership because it specifies post-consumer, as opposed to post-industrial, recycling processes.

Hmmmm…I don’t know if this pertains to us exactly….And, there are annual membership fees…perhaps I can persuade my Superior to consider this?

            …ten minutes later…

As in the case with joining NAPCOR, my boss doesn’t see the economic justification for joining the APR at this point in time: the economy is bizarre and he already brought me on as the Sustainability Coordinator; my role, he explained and continues to emphasize, is to understand sustainability from the role of a packaging professional in order to further the success of Dordan and implement logistical, economically viable initiatives: “Don’t let your passions get in the way,” he said to me. Again, another realization that this was not a school project but a profession that only exists as long as it is economically sustainable.

So, now that I have researched the various recycling trade groups but am unable to apply for membership, there has to be more things I can do to further this clamshell recycling initiative…

Luckily, I received an email from the educational tourguide at Recycle America, a division of Waste Management, following through with her offer to put me in touch with some people that may be able to help forward my clamshell recycling initiative:

Chandler,

You should be seeing two emails with you copied on them as an introductory.  One will be to our plastic rep and the other will be to one of our municipality reps.

The educational tourguide copied me on the following emails:

Hello,

Chandler Slavin is inquiring about the market challenges of clamshell containers among other things.  As a Sustainable Coordinator for his company and a member of the IoPP (Institute of Packaging Professionals), she wants direction on how to go about researching best practice collections for the packaging his company creates.  Could you spare a few minutes to answer some more specific marketing questions?

And:

Hello,

Chandler Slavin is inquiring about the recycling challenges of clamshell containers among other things.  As a Sustainable Coordinator for her company and a member of the IoPP (Institute of Packaging Professionals), she wants direction on how to go about researching best practice collections for the packaging his company creates and asked if she should look into questioning the municipalities as a part of this research.  Could you spare a few minutes to answer some more specific municipality questions?

Thanks!

Groooooooovy. Tune in on Monday to learn more about the intricacies of recycling and waste management in America.

Day 15: Oct. 28, 2009

February 18, 2010

I just spoke with my contact at Recycle America, a division of Waste Management. She is excited about what I am doing and wants to help; she just wants to make sure that I contextualize our conversations so things are not misinterpreted going forward.

Let me provide a quick summary of the role Recycle America/Waste Management has in recycling plastic packaging:

Waste Management collects materials to be recycled via curbside collection and community drop-off centers. This is a single stream system, which means that the individual must still separate it from garbage, but can now place papers, glass, metals and plastics together in ONE collection bin.  Once collected from the curb, the materials are brought to a recycling facility where they are further sorted: HDPE milk jugs are removed and bailed, cardboard, PET bottles and any other material that has a “home” are removed from the stream and designated to their specific bailing location. A home means that there is an end market for it. In other words, if there is not a buyer of this post-consumer material, then Waste Management can’t economically validate the separation and bailing of said material, which unfortunately is out of their control. As the educational tour guide explained to me, they want to find a home for every material; however, if the market is not there and there is no buyer, there is nothing they can do because the cost to bail and warehouse the homeless material exceeds the operational costs of the facility at this time.

So, while Recycle America accepts a lot of different materials for recycling, if there is no buyer, the material must be land filled. This ebbs and flows with the changing marketplace, however. The educational tour guide explains this relationship as follows: Recycle America is the distributor of post-consumer materials. They have contracts with different brokers who buy the bailed material and convert it into another usable product. Reclaimed plastic material gets sent to a plastic house, where it is cleaned and turned into flake or pellets to be sold to packaging material suppliers; reclaimed paper material gets sent to a paper mill, where they retrieve the fiber content and reprocess it into recycled paper products.

In a nut shell: Recycle America collects, sorts and bails materials post-consumer that have a home or an end-of-life buyer, like a plastic material supplier or paper mill. While Recycle America tries to find a home for every material, depending on the marketplace, some materials must be land filled. This too, however, must be put into context with the changing marketplace and the economics of supply and demand.

Now that we have contextualized the role Waste Management plays in recycling, let us turn to the email I received from the educational tourguide of Recycle America, which helps explain the complexities of recycling:

Chandler,

I very much appreciate your patience and so sorry that you had to check in again before I could respond (yikes – don’t ever tell me to take my time . . . it always gets away from me!!)

I also wanted to thank you for the kind words.  I do try to be as honest as possible (without being confusing) as I believe it is the only way we can all work towards the most efficient and effective recycling efforts.

I will answer these questions as best I can.

1. as you explained, you would like to find a home for every kind of material; however, that is not always the case because a material’s ability to be recycled is often determined by the quantity of material available in the waste stream. Watching the live feed video yesterday, I was startled to observe that no clamshells, blisters, or plastic packaging of any kind was making its way through your sorting system. Why is that? Is there just not that much plastic packaging out there, (which I find unbelievable), or, are these materials being sent somewhere else or just thrown in the garbage? If sent somewhere else, where? And if just thrown into the garbage, why?

Very good questions.  I’ll try to break this down based on what I know at this time. 

a)  Materials, like clamshells are changing.  Originally, many were #6 PS – now many are PET . . . (very hard to tell on our lines first) and as I understand it – it’s a recycled PET . . . our buyers are very specific in what they want IN these bales – bottle-form only.  WHY ???? I imagine it has to do with how these other containers process in the melting stage . . . I am no scientist but my plastic Rep can best answer this. 

b)   As for the volume issue – this is one of our biggest challenges with specific materials for our TYPE of facility.  Many things can get recycled but in a sorting facility like this one – VOLUME is key.  What might appear to the general public as a lot – is really not when you take a look at our tipping floor.  The open markets who buy our bales set the specs on what they want IN the bale (this is out of our hands).  If they do not want a certain material – like a lot of those clamshells, we would have to pull those.  If we are to find the soundest markets, it depends on gathering enough of a particular material to make a specific bale – then we need to make several bales to make a truck-load.  This is where it boils down to pure volume challenges.  We cannot just collect something for a while until we have enough of it.  That is why redirecting certain materials to smaller markets works good sometimes – but the CONSUMER has to do this part.  Future hope is to have enough of ANY material to make it’s OWN bale . . . all things take time and in the heart of the growing pains, there will be some casualties – while we (remember – just the middle sorting man) CONTINUE to work towards best-practices.  This is where the consumer can becomes more savvy and assist in finding a better home for it temporarily but what you will find is that many will not have the time to put towards this special attention – so we would rather they error on recycling with these things and let us figure it out.  A general 1-5 plastic is stated and we output as the market allows.  We have to be general with the public in literature as it would confuse too many things as these markets continue to ebb and flow.  But YOU, the packaging side needs to understand what the current challenges are and spec accordingly – make sense? 

c)  As far as these materials being sent somewhere else rather than coming in here – some unfortunately end up in a landfill simply because people will throw them in garbage.  Others will be mindful to check local markets for collectors of this stuff and others are simply making sure they are not using these containers – I cannot know for sure where all these are going. 

2.      If I want to attain my goal of being able to implement a recycling program for non-beverage PET flake in this region, where do you suggest I start? Should I begin a dialogue with all the plastic packagers in the region to find a way to reclaim our packages in order to divert them from ending up in a landfill? Should I begin with the local municipalities? Or with the waste management facilities?

YES . . . to ALL the above.  But I think you need to start from the outside and work your way up as a means of collecting facts about the challenging markets.  Start with our plastic marketing rep (I will provide an introductory email for you).  Pull off some of the local community / municipality guides and see whose collecting and marketing these in the area.  Check out sites like:  www.earth911.org , www.freecycle.com and see what those places are suggesting to their communities.  And YES, most importantly, take the gathered information of limited available markets and sit with your plastics packagers and CREATE an END MARKET and convenient collection options for these harder to place materials.  The creator of the package should step up to assisting in finding or creating markets for these materials.

3.        How do you feel about incineration as a form of waste management?

It’s one of a few great ways to manage solid waste.  We have our own called Wheelabrator.  They are incredible waste to energy facilities – but there are only 21 sites so far as the cost to build one has to be justified.  The filtration system alone is incredible – the air that comes out of those facilities is probably cleaner than what you and I breath now – they’re heavily monitored – check them out on our educational site:  www.thinkgreen.com.

Again – a great way to MANAGE waste.

4.      Today in the packaging world, there is a lot of marketing that positions one packaging material as more “environmentally friendly” than another; often this debate places paper in opposition to plastic. After performing several months of research on this debate, I have discovered that while plastic comes from oil (which is obviously not a renewable resource) and requires more energy to create than paper, it doesn’t release as many VOC and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as does the paper and pulp mills in the US. Therefore, it is a trade off and packaging material should be selected on a case-by-case basis depending on the application of the package. I was just wondering, where do you stand in the paper versus plastic debate? How can plastic packaging become more sustainable?

Yeah, I was getting ready to duck when that little debate started to air.  Please know that I respect individual passion pleas – I think the world needs to have passions in order to spur good works, it’s just passions need perspective in place or it usually ends up becoming ineffective.  I represent WMRA . . . and I also have my personal thoughts but in this “debate”, I believe my company would agree with what I am about to share.  I (we) cannot take sides.  NOT because I am not more passionate on one side or another . . . but rather because we all have to keep PERSPECTIVE.  There’s an argument for anything in life.  If I’m preaching about learning to spend energy better by making certain choices like recycling that spend energy smarter – I won’t waste my personal energy trying to ARGUE these points – you know?

Here’s the deal – NO package is perfect.  Nature – natural resources in and of themselves are perfect but the minute we start changing things and creating new things out of them, we alter how they will break down – period.  Any packaging has pros and cons to it’s production.  Sadly a lot of packaging should probably have never been created.  Old way of doing things never had this much packaging. REDUCE is the first part of the recycling structure yet no one pays attention to it. So, now that we are HERE, we have to work together to MANAGE what is on the market.  We have to work together to create effective recovery plans for EACH package.  And when packaging cannot be recovered – it needs to go away.   Sadly, we cannot simply just make one system disappear as it would cause negative overload in another area:  ONLY paper package would greatly deplete forestry – only plastic packaging would greatly impact petroleum . . . again just my take on things.

Okay, that is a lot of questions. I would love the chance to speak to you about this in person or over the phone. When is a good time to reach you?  

I can make myself available for a conversation but it will probably not be until next week – sorry – just packed full of tours.  Let me know if you have time next week and I will try to coordinate time.

If there is anything I can do for you—be it supply you with some of the research I have compiled on the sustainability of packaging materials, or speak to students about our sustainability efforts in the plastic packaging industry, please let me know.

I would love to take you up on this and will chat about this in detail when we speak.  Thank you for making yourself available – I not only enjoy learning more personally but find it necessary to be able to communicate effectively in these discussions.

Again, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to speaking with you again!

P.S. Could you please provide the contact information of your “plastic marketing guy?” Moreover, is there someone in your organization that could provide me with the contact information of someone in the local municipalities?

I will send you introductory email on both our contacts.  Hope this all makes sense.

Wow. That is a lot of really good information. Another bread crumb? I’d say several!

Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me!

And resume scene:

As I waited for Recycle America’s educational tour guide’s response to my inquiries, I followed up with Robert about Polyflow. As you will recall, I sent Robert an email asking if he knew about Polyflow and if so, what he thought of this form of waste management.

This is what I learned:

Chandler,

What Polyflow is describing is called Pyrolysis and the technology is not unique to this company.  I’m not sure about the “vapor” part though…  There are discussions regarding this method in CA and elsewhere.  In CA, we don’t use energy recovery as a part of recycling (or diversion) so the portion of the pyrolysis that results in diesel or other fuels would not be counted in our recycling numbers.  Also, some people are afraid that if the “easy” option is presented (the same goes for incineration) then recycling for higher and better uses will have no appeal.  Using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product.  For some plastics, there are not other mechanical recycling options available, but the fear is that this kind of thing would prevent new technologies being developed, that people would stop trying to find better options if the easy option is available.

Further, the analyses I’ve seen on the environmental/energetic impacts of mechanical recycling versus pyrolysis puts mechanical ahead of the game pretty much under every circumstance (assuming there is infrastructure). 

I don’t mean to shatter your hopes…it’s a good technology, and would be appropriate for a few materials that have no other options (in my personal opinion), however I think there would be challenges to implementing it wholesale (at least in CA…perhaps Il is different).

I’m surprised that the Sustainability Director of Starbucks hasn’t contacted you, he seemed interested in speaking.  I wonder if perhaps your email simply got buried.  Have you tried sending him the email again?  I’ve looked around here and I’m not sure that we really have a person on the local level that would be particularly suited.  I suppose I’m it…sorry!!

Robert

Hmmmmmm using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product? That’s interesting; I didn’t know there was a hierarchy to waste management. If most plastic packaging ends up in a land fill, wouldn’t a better option be waste-to-energy? If easier, why not utilize the technology until the recycling infrastructure catches up? I wonder why CA doesn’t count this form of recovery into their recycling numbers. This seems sort of odd…

As I tried to sort through the implications of Robert’s response, I received an email from the Sustainability Director at Starbucks, yippee! He agreed to chat with me about implementing a pilot-recycling program in several NY Starbucks stores.

Little old me, I remember thinking. This is big time!

The actual email has not been included for privacy considerations.

Upon setting up a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Starbucks, I sent the following email to Robert:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for your feedback. I feel so silly; the rep from Polyflow didn’t even mention Pyrolysis, which I know about and know is not unique to this company. Thanks for clarification!

As it turns out, the Sustainability Director of Starbucks is available to talk with me, and my email did get lost in the plasma that is the internet, so thank you! I also have been engaging in dialogue with various people in Waste Management trying to figure out a way to recapture PET clamshells and what not, so I feel as though I am on the right track.

So until next time, take care and thanks again for all your help; I really appreciate it!

What are you doing for Halloween? I dressed up as a man for our office party and just got done handing out candy to everyone in the plant. It is fun to be a man for a day!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Cheers!

Day 9: Oct. 20, 2009

February 3, 2010

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was on a deadline to finish a condensed version of my research on sustainability and packaging titled, The Facts. Check it out under the sustainability tab at www.dordan.com

Okay, back to the story:

The day after I received the “ok” from Robert, I sent the Environmental Director of Starbucks the following email:

Hello,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, a Midwestern based custom thermoformer. I was given your information from Robert Carlson with the California Integrated Waste Management Board, whom I met in Atlanta at the SPC members-only fall meeting. I believe I also met you (sort of) in one of the break out seminars on “Closing the Loop” (where you the one who asked how Starbucks cups could be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure?)

Anyway, Robert said you may be of assistance because you were involved with implementing the pilot recycling program in several New York Starbucks stores and I am trying to implement a pilot recycling program in the Midwest for reclaiming thermoform PET clamshells, blisters and components. I have so many questions for you I don’t know where to start: Are the Starbucks cups compatible with the existing recycling infrastructure i.e. can they be recycled with other paper/cardboard products or do they need to be sorted? If sorted, by whom and where? Did you begin with the municipalities and the local MRFS to determine what can be recycled in your region and what is needed to allow a new product into the recycling stream? Where is the funding for this program coming from?

Yikes! The list could go on and on. Would it be possible to speak with you about your sustainability efforts at Starbucks over the phone? I would love to set up a phone interview with you at your earliest convenience. Please let me know when and where I can reach you.

Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler

After sending, I automatically received an “out of the office” reply. Rats!

Luckily I scheduled a fieldtrip to the Recycle America Waste Management Facility in Grayslake with the Institute of Packaging Professionals. It was the first time I got to see a modern MRF in action!

The Dordan Sales Force and I set out on our journey to Grayslake; the wind was in our hair, the pastoral scenery was all around, and Tony’s Famous Subs were in sight. After a scrumptious filling of salami and ham, we made it to the recycling facility.

The two hours we spent at the Grayslake facility were jammed packed: we had a tour of the facility, got to watch live footage of the process of recycling, and had a Q&A session. During the Q&A session, my fears were confirmed: Most plastic clamshells do not get recycled at this current time, even if they make it to the material recovery facility. Ug!

While Waste Management says that it accepts plastics 1-7 for recycling and tries to find an end-market for these materials, only PET beverage bottles are currently being processed at this facility because of the current market demands; this changes with the ebbs and flow of the market, however. Our educational tour guide did explain that this is because the buyers of the PET bales specify that they do not want any thermoforms in the bale, even if it is the same material type.

As an aside, on the East and West coasts, mixed rigid plastic packaging is collected and recycled because of the different markets available and the overseas demand.

The day after our field trip, I sent the following email to our educational tourguide:

 Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin—we met yesterday at the Recycle America Waste Management facility in Grayslake. I was with the Institute of Packaging Professionals and I kept asking about how we could create a recycle stream for non-beverage PET flake i.e. clamshells, blisters and trays.

I just wanted to drop you a quick email thanking you for allowing us to visit the facility and for presenting such an honest discussion of waste management and recycling in this region.

Being a representative from the plastic packaging industry, I was wondering if I could pick your brain in regard to the following:

  1. As you explained, you would like to find a home for every kind of material; however, that is not always the case because a material’s ability to be recycled is often determined by the quantity of material available in the waste stream. Watching the live feed video yesterday, I was startled to observe that no clamshells, blisters, or plastic packaging of any kind was making its way through your sorting system. Why is that? Is there just not that much plastic packaging out there, (which I find unbelievable), or, are these materials being sent somewhere else or just thrown in the garbage? If sent somewhere else, where? And if just thrown into the garbage, why?
  2. If I want to attain my goal of being able to implement a recycling program for non-beverage PET flake in this region, where do you suggest I start? Should I begin a dialogue with all the plastic packagers in the region to find a way to reclaim our packages in order to divert them from ending up in a landfill? Should I begin with the local municipalities? Or with the waste management facilities?
  3. How do you feel about incineration as a form of waste management?
  4. Today in the packaging world, there is a lot of marketing that positions one packaging material as more “environmentally friendly” than another; often this debate places paper in opposition to plastic. After performing several months of research on this debate, I have discovered that while plastic comes from oil (which is obviously not a renewable resource) and requires more energy to create than paper, it doesn’t release as many VOC and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as does the paper and pulp mills in the US. Therefore, it is a trade off and packaging material should be selected on a case-by-case basis depending on the application of the package. I was just wondering, where do you stand in the paper versus plastic debate? How can plastic packaging become more sustainable?

 kay, that is a lot of questions. I would love the chance to speak to you about this in person or over the phone. When is a good time to reach you?  

If there is anything I can do for you—be it supply you with some of the research I have compiled on the sustainability of packaging materials, or speak to students about our sustainability efforts in the plastic packaging industry, please let me know.

Again, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to speaking with you again!

P.S. Could you please provide the contact information of your “plastic marketing guy?” Moreover, is there someone in your organization that could provide me with the contact information of someone in the local municipalities?

Best,

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to see our educational tour guide’s answers.