…[please see yesterday’s post for context as today’s post picks up where that one left off]…Also invited to participate in the task force meeting was the President of Plastics Forming Enterprise LLC., who was heavily involved with the development of APR’s Design for Recyclability Guidelines for PET bottles in the early 1990s. To make a long story short, this guy knows a thing or two about plastics recycling. His company is marketed as “an independent full service testing and R&D company serving the plastics, packaging, recycling and consumer products industries worldwide with a range of services.” As such, he is very well versed in the technical barriers keeping certain packaging/materials from being recycled and how recycling markets are generated and sustained.

His presentation titled “Recycling of PET Labeled Thermoforms and Bottles,” was one of the more precious compilations of insights into the technicalities governing PET bottle vs. PET thermoform recycling I have stumbled upon: For those of you who follow my blog regularly, you will recognize that the approach to PET thermoform recycling (and therefore what is considered a contaminate) has always been ambiguous—do you recycle PET thermoforms WITH bottles or in a separate stream? According to this gentleman, the answer is to recycle PET thermoforms WITH PET bottles eventually; it is just a matter of time, investment, and trial and error until recyclers and buyers gain the confidence into the value of PET thermoform material to sustain the collection and reprocessing there of. Good news, right?!?

What follows are some take-aways from this presentation:

Pressure-sensitive labels are the majority of labels used on thermoformed containers sold at retail. They consist of adhesives, substrate (paper vs. plastic), inks, coating, and laminate.

The known obstacles to recycling thermoforms with label/adhesives include: Sorting/contamination removal, material variability, mechanical engineering issues, misc. technical issues.

The known obstacles to recycling thermoforms with labels include: Look-alike contaminates i.e. PVC thermoform looks like a PET thermoform, wide variability in IV, package shape, direct print, different adhesives, different additives, fluorescence, flake bulk density, paper labels.

There are physical differences between PET thermoforms and PET bottles. While bottles have high IV, high bulk density and a unanimous design and material i.e. thin screw-top PET bottle, thermoforms have low IV, low bulk density, and heterogeneous shapes and material constituents.

The labels on PET bottles are typically plastic; the labels on retail point of purchase thermoforms are predominantly paper and continuously be increasing to plastic.
o It is generally understood that the move away from paper labels is the current issue at hand in the plastics recycling market (see APR’s Design Guidelines, pg. 12).
o However, the practical side of recycling PET thermoforms will need consideration of paper in the future i.e. POP label application.

The APR Thermoform Label and Adhesive protocol follows these steps:
o Apply label
o Grind
o 1st Elutriation
o Wash/Sink float
o 2nd Elutriation
o Plaque
o Analysis

PFE has developed a screening evaluation that focuses on adhesive performance (this takes a label and adhesive that has been applied to a specific package):
o Ground per APR guidelines
o Washed per APR guidelines
o The resulting flakes are analyzed for separation of the label from the flake (paper vs. plastic label impacts this test insofar as paper labels tend to “stick” to flake)
o The resulting flakes are analyzed for impact of inks and the impact of residual adhesive on the flake

In Europe, a common test evaluates the solubility of adhesives; this protocol does not look at the potential impact of:
o Soluble adhesives that have gone into solution during the wash and rinse process and redeposit onto the processed PET flake;
o Residual adhesives that remain tacky are causing problems where labels and flake become stuck together during reprocessing, hindering the removal potential of a given label.

Ideal PET label substrate properties:
o Floatable
o Light weight
o Maintain printed inks
o Physical properties for better separation

Ideal PET label adhesive properties:
o Needs to dissolve into solution and not reapply itself OR
o Adhesive to remain with the label and not be tacky

PFE’s Screening Evaluation is designed to understand three basic areas where label and/or adhesive performance is crucial to meeting the guidelines set by the APR:
o Separation from flake
o Removal through Elutriation and Sink Float
o Adhesive solubility and potential impact on flakes
o Impact of inks on wash water and flakes (if printed)

It was concluded that pressure sensitive labels are a critical part of the entire package. Therefore it should not be isolated as the main indicator of adhesive contamination potential without considering the interaction of the other label components.

Whoa!

Hey guys!

As introduced in my last post, I had a conference call with Calvin Frost, a representative of TLMI—the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute—about the impact of APR’s protocol for adhesives/labels used on thermoform packaging in Canada on the TLMI membership. For background on APR’s initiative as reported via Plastics News, click here. In a nutshell, NAPCOR found that adhesives used on labels for thermoformed packaging act as contaminant to the PET recycling stream—they then created a protocol that attempts to test the adhesives’ and substrate materials applicability to the established PET recycling process.

While I applaud the efforts of NAPCOR / APR and the various PET thermoform recycling stakeholders involved in this protocol, others find fault with the approach taken for the following reasons: little consultation was made to the various constituents of the packaging supply chain that is involved with the adhesives and labels on thermoformed packaging; for instance, the adhesive manufacturers vs. the label manufacturers vs. those who apply the adhesive to the label vs. the inks, dies and laminates applied to the label vs. the substrate of the material the label is being applied to. In other words, Calvin Frost from TLMI with whom I spoke indicated that isolating adhesives used on labels as the low-hanging fruit of design barriers keeping thermoforms from being recycled is flawed for it neglects the complexities of the market and the interaction between the labels, adhesive, ink/laminate, and overall packaging substrate. Yowza!

I was subsequently invited to participate in TLMI’s “Recycling Friendly Adhesive Formulations and Compounds Task Force,” which consists of TLMI’s member-companies looking to become educated on the implications of APR’s protocol and how to proactively engage with the changing landscape of packaging material procurement as provoked by retailers in Canada…

More details to come, pending approval from the task force’s presenter! 

As an aside, did I mention that I have been nominated for Waste & Recycling News’ Rising Star award?!? Click here for the details. Fingers crossed!

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends!

Sooo I don’t know if you read that article I referenced a post or two ago in Machine Design Magazine about PET thermoform recycling BUT you should because it continues the dialogue on clamshell recycling. Click here to read “Good News and Bad News about Recycling Thermoforms.” The interview for this article was more technical than those previous because the audience of the publication is engineers; the site’s tagline is “By engineers for engineers.” Anyway, after I received the reporter’s first draft of the article and performed my edits I sent it to several colleagues in the waste management industry to get their feedback as I was a little intimidated by the scope and breath of the piece. Thankfully I heard back from my friend who is the North Carolina Recycling Program Director and familiar with the barriers keeping PET thermoforms from being recycled in the Carolinas from the perspective of the state. As a side note, I met this gentleman two years ago at a Walmart SVN conference when I bombarded him with questions on thermoform recycling after his presentation (this was before I published my “Recycling Report©”). He was such a doll, patiently explaining his perspective on the matter, and has been a sounding board for my inquiries ever since. His comments are below:

You are doing an amazing job of trying to move thermoform recycling into the mainstream. It is a daunting task. As much as we try to pay attention to it and have dialogue with various players here in the Carolinas, we have yet to have any breakthroughs. There is an interesting trend for communities to expand plastic collection to non-bottle containers, but the situation on thermoforms is always ambiguous – are they in or are they out? Our bigger MRFs are definitely employing optical sorters to divert PET from the MRF stream but no one seems to have a handle on whether thermoforms go along for the ride and, if they do, if mixing them with bottles is okay with the markets. Or whether a secondary sort after the optical sorter is needed.

But I think you did a fine job of describing what is a surprisingly complex recycling process. There is so much change going on in the industry right now, it is frankly bewildering. I think folks see where we need to go, but it is really hard to figure out how to get there. When it comes to thermoforms (like a lot of other things), I think we just need a few breakthroughs with some “early adopters” who solve the chicken-egg dilemma of collection and then processing/marketing the materials. To that end, I am hopeful that the NAPCOR projects yield some useful results.

I’ve got a lot on my plate, but if you need any help in educating folks (reporters, or whoever) about some of the nuances of the recycling and waste management world, I’d be glad to weigh in. I really appreciate how much energy and thoughtfulness you are bringing to this work… Hang in there – you are doing great!

Aw shucks, whata guy.

This dialogue coincides with some other happenings in PET thermoform recycling, including an advertisement I was forwarded from the editor of Canadian Packaging Magazine showcasing the different “APR-approved label solutions” from Avery Dennison. Click here to see the ad. As per previous conversations, NAPCOR and others found that the adhesives used on thermoform packaging was too aggressive, rendering PET thermoforms unrecyclable insofar as the adhesive would gunk up the material during the process of recycling. Consequently, APR established a protocol in which adhesives used on labels had to be approved for application on thermoforms in Canada. Having received the ad from Avery, I am confident that the industry is taking this initiative seriously and developing adhesives and labels that are conducive to PET thermoform recycling. Hurray!

And the plot thickens!

While at the last SPC meeting I met a rather rambunctious fella who did not fancy the APR’s work in these regards; he represents an industry group of laminated paper products manufacturers. After some playful banter (I of course applaud the efforts of the APR looking to facilitate thermoform recycling by eliminating those elements that act as deterrent to recycling while he found fault with the approach of the APR), we agreed to schedule a follow up conference call. Months later I am happy that such a call is finally coming to fruition, scheduled for this Thursday! I look forward to learning about his perceptive on the matter and as always, promise to share his insights with you, my sustainable packaging enthusiasts.

AND I just received word that the S+S Sorting pilot, which looks to understand the technical differences between reprocessing bottle-grade PET vs. thermoform-grade PET, has been pushed back 3-4 weeks; more details to come.

This has nothing to do with any of the above BUT check out this super adorable article about my father and our family business. We even got the centerfold of this week’s Plastics News! How sexy!

Hello and happy Friday!

And we are back on recycling!

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

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

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

Enjoy!

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers

Design for Recyclability Program, Summary

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

Design for Recyclability Guidelines, Overview:

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

Average Reclaimer Yield Values

BOTTLE TYPE                                                                                BASE RESIN YIELD (%)

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

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

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

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

PVC bottles                                                                                                                  85-92 (PVC)

PP bottles                                                                                                                        85-95 (PP)

Granulation & Air Classification:

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

Density Range of Key Plastics and Closure Materials

MATERIAL                                                                                           DENSITY (g/cc)

PP                                                                                                             0.90 – 0.92

LDPE                                                                                                        0.91 – 0.93

HDPE                                                                                                        0.94 – 0.96

PET                                                                                                           1.35 – 1.38

PLA                                                                                                           1.24 – 1.27

PVC                                                                                                          1.32 – 1.42

PS                                                                                                             1.03 – 1.06

Aluminum                                                                                                        ~2.10

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

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

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

YAY!

Action Plan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tootles!