CRAZY!

Check out this article posted today on PlasticsNews.com.

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will remember that in preparation of speaking on progress being made in recycling PET thermoforms in Orlando for Pira International’s/Packaging World’s Sustainability in Packaging conference, I reached out to Coca Cola’s joint recycling venture, NURRC, to see if they minded providing information on their experiences with recycling PET thermoforms. And if I could back up even further—it was because a rep for NURRC approached me after I presented at Plastics News’ Sustainable Plastics Packaging conference in Atlanta on recycling thermoforms, explaining that his facility recycles curb-side collected PET thermoforms—that I wanted to use NURCC as a case study of progress being made in recycling PET thermoforms. In March 2nd’s post titled “New Insight into Recycling PET Thermoforms,” I discuss my dialogue with NURRC and how up until right before my presentation in Orlando, they were comfortable with me discussing their experience with recycling PET thermoforms, which included sensitive information like sorting technology used, end markets, etc. Perhaps the discussion reported in the PlasticsNews article above is part of the reason they became uncomfortable with me highlighting them as a case study into the progress of recycling thermoforms post consumer. YIKES! Hopefully these realities are just growing pains for this new closed-loop infrastructure that’s discovering how to navigate the world of recycling in the context of using post-consumer PET material for remanufacturing into second generation high-value PET products, like bottles and clamshells…

This week I will discuss feedback from the Walmart SVN/Expo. After which, we will pick up on summarizing Dr. Narayan’s presentation on the science of bio-based/biodegradable resins and conclude with the happenings of the SPC meeting in San Diego that I attended.

Happy Monday funday!

Happy Monday Funday!

May 24, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!

The company that I made the “Sustainability and Packaging” presentation for, which I posted to my blog on Friday, sent me the following email after receiving said powerpoint (I sent it early for confirmation of its content):

“180 slides is way too long, even for a medical convention…”

Ha!

How do you provide an “overview of sustainability” in 60 slides, which is what this company suggested? I guess I am just as dilligent a powerpointer as I was a student; I was one of the special few who had to speak with my professors about exceeding the page limits for term papers—old habits die hard…

Anyway, tomorrow’s the day: My big presentation for a giant company on all things “Sustainable.” I am going to wear my new power business suit and fab heels AND I took my face piercing out several weeks ago so I look totally business-like.

For today’s post I thought I would reflect on a recent happening in our industry, which was convered on greenerpackage.com, PlasticsNews, and other misc. packaging publications. Because the company in question is a competitor, my superior was hesitant about me articulating my questions in a public forum i.e. on greenerpackage.com. Therefore, I decided to address this tid bit in my blog as it is not an in-your-face forum because I totally respect this company and the work they are doing in sustainability.

Consequentially, all reference to this company has been removed so as not to ruffle anyone’s tail feathers.

Here is the article:

Company X  has announced that it will construct a closed-loop recycling facility in Somewhere America to grind and wash post-consumer bottles and thermoforms for processing into its namebrand sheet products. The company says it is reducing the total carbon footprint of its product by bringing the material supply chain closer to production and offering its customers more choices of materials, including up to 100% post-consumer content PET.

 “We’re excited to bring bottle cleaning and sheet production together in a continuous process loop,” says company CEO. “Our factory design will streamline operations while delivering the recycled sheet products the market requires.”

Company X notes that it is among the first thermoforming companies in the food and consumer packaging industry to implement its own in-house recycling. With the new facility, the company will receive curbside-collected bottles to clean, grind, and extrude into sheet. Reducing the number of bottles going to landfills while providing high-quality material for customers has long been a goal for the company. Company X has been using recycled content in its packaging for more than 15 years, and over the last seven, it has diverted more than 1 billion discarded bottles from landfills.

While Company X has extruded sheet for internal use for 20 years, this marks the first time it will sell its namebrand sheet on the open market.

In addition to namebrand post-consumer rPET, the facility will produce LNO (letter of non-object) flake, allowing food contact with recycled material. Company X  has also commercialized an RF-sealable rPET grade of material to address customers’ bar sealing requirements for PET. Company X says that with only minor process adjustments, this material is a direct replacement for PVC sealing applications.

The recycling facility will be completed in two phases. In phase one, Company X will be adding an additional extruder for its namebrand rollstock. This will be completed in the third quarter of 2010. Phase two will be the addition of the bottle washing equipment, which is scheduled to be operational in the first quarter of 2011, with plans for additional extruders to follow.

Company X’s CEO said that integrating the bottle washing and grinding makes sense, given the amount of post-consumer material the company uses. With the completion of the in-house recycling facility, the firm will be able to streamline the recycling process to ensure that raw material meets Company X’s high standards.

Seeing as how I have been trying to figure out a way to integrate our RPET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, I have A TON of questions for Company X. 

If any of you fine packaging and sustainability friends have any insight, please don’t hesitate to share!!! Sharing is caring!

  • 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?
  • If only PET thermoforms, is there enough QUANTITY of these types of packages available for the recovery of PET thermoforms to be economically sustainable?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • If buying mixed material thermoform bales from the MRF 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?
  • 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?
  • How are you competing with Asia for PCR PET?

While I am tickled pink that Company X is recovering thermoforms post-consumer in a closed-loop system, I don’t know how they are doing it! Perhaps the point, no?

That’s all for now; wish me luck tomorrow on my presentation!

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 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.