Day 24: Nov. 19th, 2009

March 8, 2010

Happy Monday! I am already on my second cup of joe and not feeling too perky. Ug! I hope everyone is feeling a little more motivated than I…

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

The next day I arrived to find an email waiting from Robert Carlson of the CA EPA. This is in response to the email I sent updating him on the status of my clamshell recycling initiative. It is jammed packed with goodness so enjoy! Thanks Robert!

Chandler,

First I wanted to address the issue of collecting rigid plastics for recycling (providing the source for PVC contamination).  I’m not terribly aware of the recycling infrastructure in your part of the country, but here in California, most jurisdictions do in fact accept mixed plastics.  A lot of jurisdictions moved away from the 3-bin system which often took only beverage containers to a single-stream approach to recycling where you dump all recyclables into a single bin and it’s sorted at the MRF.  Where I live, the city picks up 1-7 plastics of any kind for recycling then sorts later.  So…this situation is one that would introduce a PVC bottle or clamshell into a stream where it could be confused for PET or some other plastic for that matter (even paper).  Also, if there are commercial recycling centers/retail bins etc…an errant PVC container may find its way into the bin and be sent with the rest for recycling.  Some of the plastics that are collected do get separated and disposed of, but others are sent to be recycled as a low-grade plastic mixture that’s often used in plastic lumber applications where it’s mixed with sawdust or something and used for fencing or benches or sometimes decking.

Second, you idea about having consumers separate their goods from its packaging before they leave the store and deposit it into appropriate bins for recycling is a good one.  It is in fact being done in Europe and I believe parts of Canada (don’t quote me on that) where they have EPR programs in place.  If you do in fact pursue that option I would LOVE to follow it since it’s an approach that we think would allow a high level of recovery while maintaining a clean stream.  BUT of course it introduces the problem of financing and retail acceptance (they don’t always want to put bins in their stores…particularly in the front where everybody can see them) not to mention changing the consumer’s behavior to unwrap their product in the store instead of at home where they are accustomed to doing it.  The other issue I’ve heard is related to returns (often you’re required to return the product in its original packaging).  Not that these are issues that can’t be addressed, but they would need to be though about and dealt with somehow.  Again…VERY exciting and if you go that way, I’d love to watch or be more involved somehow.

Third, as I think I’ve mentioned before, Pyrolosis may be the best option for you and if it works and meets your goals and expectations, then by all means pursue it.  It’s not really an option for us (in California) right now, but who’s to say what will happen in the future?  Keep me updated on it if you go that direction.

Fourth, your assumption that your PET clamshells should be compatible with the PET bottle stream is correct.  If you could somehow guarantee a certain level of cleanliness (both free of food/product contamination as well as free from various other resin contamination) then it should in fact be compatible.  From what I understand, Starbucks first had a University test the recycling process of corrugated containers with their cups and proved that they did in fact work.  Then they started piloting the project, collecting the cups and sending them to be mixed into a real-life recycler with corrugated.  The recycler is then sending samples of the finished board for testing to be sure it meets the same specs as recycled board with NO cups.  This recycler though is known for being able to take and separate ANYTHING so they may not work for everybody, but it’s a foot in the door.  People can see that it can be done and it won’t degrade the product.  Then it’s a matter of finding the contamination level that other recyclers are comfortable with and making the stream clean enough for them (that’s the next step).  If you were collecting at retail, you’d have some control over stream cleanliness.  Of course, if PVC were banned…it’s help your cause immensely as well as you’d no longer have to deal with recyclers worrying about PVC messing up the clamshell stream.

I’m busy dealing with synthetic turf field issues and recycled paper issues at the moment, plus of course my usual EPR related issues.  Meetings, reports, dealing with lobbyists!!  My life is busy in a boring way!!

Whew!!!  That was a marathon of an email, huh?!?!? 

We’ll have to chat again soon, but maybe next time parceled out into smaller portions.  I’m a number of years out of college and not as mentally nimble as you are anymore!!  God…getting old at 30!  That’s terrible!!

Maybe if you have any specific questions about any of these topics, we can get together on the phone so that we can discuss a bit more casually rather than having to get everything down in an email.

Take care…gotta go to yoga now and relax my brain for a few moments!

Robert

Tune in tomorrow for some feedback from the Environmental Director of Starbucks! Good luck getting through the rest of the day!

Cheers!

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.