Hey guys!

Happy July! I have a super-awesome blog post coming your way but FIRST, let us recap exciting developments in PET thermoform recycling!!! Afterall, this was the ENTIRE focus of my blog for the first two years of its life; consequently, I think it only fair to tip our hats to the industry and all those involved in the impressive journey to recycle clamshell packaging, narrated below.

On June 27, 2011, Plastics News published a story announcing that “Canada’s five grocery chains will require its suppliers to shift to PET clamshell thermoformed packaging in a move designed to simplify the product stream and increase recycling” (Miel, Canada’s Grocers: PET for Clamshells).

As described in my Recycling Report, developing the quantity necessary to sustain the process of recycling itself is crucial to the economic recovery of any packaging/material type. In encouraging suppliers transition thermoforms from PE/PS/etc. to PET, it is assumed that the amount of material available for recovery should increase, allowing for the efficient collection and repossessing thereof. In addition, replacing other resins with PET will reduce the amount of “look-alikes” in the recycling stream, limiting the likelihood of contamination from PVC, PETG, CPET, etc.

Kudos to Canadian grocers!

Click here for the full article.

On July 4, 2011, Plastics News reports, “Transitioning to adhesives that don’t hinder recycling could be one of the stickiest challenges that packaging thermoformers face in meeting the new mandate by the Retail Council of Canada that clamshell food packaging be made from PET by next year” (Verespeji, Adhesives Complicate Packaging Mandate). The article goes on to explain how most food thermoforms use pressure sensitive labels, which when recycled, gunk up the recyclate due to the aggressive properties of the adhesive. Consequently, retailers are working with “Adhesive and Sealant Council Inc. and the APR on a set of guidelines for labeling adhesives that will eliminate contamination from glues and labels” (Ibid).  

As per my Report, inks, labels and adhesives were another obstacle to PET thermoform recycling; thanks to the efforts of those cited above, these barriers (no pun intended) will soon be overcome. Awesome.

Click here for the full article.

On July 25, 2011, Plastics News announces that NAPCOR and SPI are to collaborate “in an initiative to propel the collection and recycling of thermoformed PET packaging…in a model program to demonstrate the economic feasibility of capturing the material” (Verespej, SPI Jumps on Thermoformed PET Recycling).

In my Recycling Report I emphasis the need for investment in recycling infrastructure and technology (collection, sortation, nourishment of domestic end markets, etc.) in regards to establishing the foundation on which PET thermoform recycling can thrive. I am SO proud of SPI, NAPCOR, and its member companies for developing this model program to determine the feasibility of nation-wide PET thermoform recycling.

Click here for the article.

On March 19, 2012, Plastics News announces the winners of the SPI/NAPCOR model PET thermoform grant! Click here for the winner descriptions!

AND, on June 29, 2012, Packaging Digest reports that, “…beginning immediately residents of single-family homes receiving recycling pick-ups [in Montgomery County, Maryland] can now add PET thermoform plastics to their recycling bins” (Spinner, SPI Boosts Recycling of PET Thermoforms in MD).

Click here for the full article!

Making moves in PET thermoform recycling! Can you believe our Green Manufacturer cover story narrating our efforts to recycling clamshell packaging came out almost a year ago!?! How time flies when progress is being made! I am so thrilled to have been part of the discourse on thermoform recycling and tickled pink to see the progress resulting since I first discovered that clamshell packaging was not recycled in 2009. I can’t believe that soon I will be able to say, without a doubt, that clamshell packaging IS recycled; take that paper people!

…[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!

Hey!

It’s official! Check out the email I got from Cal Recycle last night:

Plastic Collection and Recycling Listserv

The National Association for PET Container Recources (NAPCOR) and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) have just issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a grant of up to $100,000 to be awarded for development of a model PET thermoform recycling program. Funds are available to any United States’ MRF or recycling program operator that can affect the variety of elements necessary for a successful program, as described more fully in the RFP.

The RFP is available for reviewing or download on the NAPCOR web site at http://www.napcor.com/PET/thermoRFP.html. Proposals are due on or before September 30, 2011.

AWESOME!

Go NAPCOR and SPI!!!

Greetings world!

We have made it through the BLIZZARD! Man oh man has it been crazy! The night of the storm the wind was swirling so fast you didn’t know from which direction it was coming! AND I witnessed “Thunder Snow,” which is basically a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain! Who knew!?! And my street, which is in the West Loop, just got paved TODAY so I have been stranded here since Tuesday! And the Metra trains, which I normally take to work, were super backed up and basically you couldn’t really get anywhere! It was sort of exciting…

Check out these pictures of Lake Shore Drive, which is a main artery of the city; at 8:00 on Tuesday they shut it down and all these cars were abandoned. Everyone was calling it a “Snowpocalypse!” Ha!

Anyway, for today’s post I thought I would give you an update on the progress of Walmart Canada’s PET Subcommittee of the Material Optimization Committee. For those of you who may be new to my blog, I was invited to be the co-lead of Walmart Canada’s PET Subcommittee in winter 2009, due to my research on recycling clamshells. To download the full research report, which draws on my involvement with this Committee, visit http://www.dordan.com/dordan_sustainability_research.shtml and select “Recycling Report.”

While the “goal” of the Committee was never really carved in stone, I was operating under the assumption that we were working towards achieving zero waste for PET packaging—bottle grade and thermoform grade—in the main Provinces of Canada. And while the approach too was a bit fuzzy, we investigated the plausibility of recycling PET bottles with PET thermoforms. The thinking was that because the PET bottle recycling infrastructure was so sophisticated, it may be easier to piggy back on it then create an entirely new recovery stream. Like the Starbuck’s cup recycling pilot that piggy-backed on the already established corrugate recycling stream, we hoped that if we could demonstrate to reclaimers that PET thermoforms do not contaminate the PET bottle recyclate stream, then we could begin integrating them into the existing PET recycling stream. After all, all the research I had done explained that there was nothing technically problematic about recycling PET bottles with thermoforms, just that it would be expensive to sort the PET thermoforms from other look-a-likes considered a contaminate to the PET bottle stream.

After several meetings, each member was assigned a task, which was “due” in by a specific date. I was instructed to summarize the APR’s Design for Recyclability Guidelines for PET bottles in hopes of using it as a template for creating Design for Recyclability Guidelines for PET thermoforms. After I submitted my summary, which you can find if you search my blog, I didn’t hear from my co-lead for several months. While I called him several times over the summer of 2010, it was conveyed to me that this project was put on the back-burner in favor of other, more important projects.

Yesterday my co-lead called me, however, to discuss the progress being made. This is what he had to say:

The Committee, which now seems entirely staffed by Walmarters, is making progress! The progress explained, however, does not seem that different than the progress reported by NAPCOR in our previous discussions. Like NAPCOR, my co-lead explained that after performing some pilots, it was found that it is easier to recycle PET thermoforms with PET thermoforms then within the PET bottle stream. The reason for this is multi-faceted, but in a nut shell, it is because no one wants to contaminate the PET bottle stream. Therefore, it is easier the develop processes and technologies for recycling PET thermoforms together then figure out what about them is problematic for the bottle stream. After all, a lot of time and investment has been made into the PET bottle recycling stream, thanks to NAPCOR and others, so trying to introduce a new packaging type into this system would probably do more harm than good.

Next it was articulated that for some reason, PET thermoforms manufactured in South America turned the PET recyclate fluorescent, which was making the reprocessing of the thermoform-grade RPET problematic. They are currently investigating why that is…

Lastly, it was reported that some type of adhesive on labels intended for food packaging is tinting the RPET beige during the process of recycling. Apparently Walmart is working with a Label Association trying to figure out what type of adhesive on these labels is contaminating the stream; once known, it was reported that Walmart will begin drafting suggestions for their suppliers in the context of sourcing labels for thermoform food packaging containers.

That’s all for today folks!

See you soon!

I’m famous!

January 12, 2011

HIIIII!

I have some exciting news!!! The interview conducted after my presentation at Sustainable Plastics Packaging is now live on Plastics News’ website!!!

Aside from the awesome freeze-frame mugshot, I think it is quite good! Check it out here.

AND, I am just about finished summarizing the happenings of the Walmart SVN… I will post them tomorrow; I just didn’t want to over-bombard you with goodness!

Have a lovely day!

Greetings my packaging and sustainability friends! I swear, my lot in life is writer’s block: I have been invited to contribute content to SupplierHub’s blog, and am required to submit my first post TODAY, dun dun dunnn. SupplierHub is a closed portal website for Wal-Mart Private Brand suppliers, which looks to aid said suppliers in the attainment of better Packaging and Supply Chain Scores. Check out the website here: http://mysupplierhub.com/login.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fdefault.aspx

Therefore, my content, in addition to establishing myself as an authority on packaging and sustainability via my participation with the SPC, Wal-Mart SVN, and MOC Committee of Wal-Mart Canada, should help Wal-Mart Suppliers increase their Scores in some way shape or form. Because I sat in on seminars about the Wal-Mart Packaging Scorecard at the Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club Sustainable Packaging Expo in Bentonville and subscribe to the Wal-Mart Packaging Modeling Software 2.0, I feel as though I am fairly well versed in the metrics and therefore could provide some insight into how to get a better Packaging Score; however, because Dordan does not sell directly to Wal-Mart (our customers sell to Wal-Mart), I am unsure how to go about the whole Supply Chain Score thingamajig…I assume it has something to do with supply chain logistics and finding the most economically and therefore environmentally efficient way to manufacture, transport and distribute products at the various Wal-Mart shopping centers throughout America and the world, but that is just an assumption. I often times feel like Wal-Mart is a club that I can’t quite get into, which is conveyed, in my opinion, by the closed portal nature of SupplierHub: Because I am not a Private Brand supplier to Wal-Mart I can’t access the website that I have been invited to contribute blog content to; as an academic, understanding the audience and medium is crucial to creating the content; without which, it is sort of like shooting in the dark. Ohhhh well, you never get anywhere dilly-dallying, right?

By the by, today I should be in Canada at the Walmart SVN/MOC meeting, but I am not. This is for various reasons, which I won’t bore you with. However, I have been watching the presentations via “Global Crossing Conferencing,” which is cool, but don’t have anything too terribly exciting to report. Right now the presenter is discussing Walmart Canada’s action plan for 2010-2012 in regard to the goals outlined by the MOC…and now they are having a break. I love technology!

NOW, drum roll please…NAPCOR/APR have published their much anticipated 2009 PET Recycling Report, which outlines the progress being made in recycling PET thermoforms in the appendix. For the full report, visit: http://www.napcor.com/pdf/2009_Report.pdf. I have also copy and pasted the section on PET thermoform recycling here. Enjoy!!!

ADDENDUM: PET THERMOFORM RECYCLING

The dramatic growth in PET thermoformed packaging has resulted in pressures from environmentalists, brand owners, policy makers, recycling program operators, and most importantly, consumers, for a recycling end-of-life option. Although additional post-consumer RPET supply is arguably the most critical issue facing the industry, a variety of technical issues have prevented existing PET bottle reclaimers from including PET thermoforms in the bottle stream. As a result, the potential value of this growing PET packaging segment is not being successfully realized.

NAPCOR has made recycling of PET thermoforms its highest priority and to that end, has been working with collectors, intermediate processors, reclaimers and end markets to identify and clearly define these technical issues, and to eliminate the barriers to successful recycling. These barriers include: look-alike packages made from
OPS, PLA, OPP and PVC that require advanced autosort technology; certain adhesives used for paper labels on PET thermoforms; package geometry; and wide variability in intrinsic viscosity.

In 2009, NAPCOR facilitated the shipment of almost one million pounds of PET thermoforms to various reclaimers and end markets in an effort to better understand and remedy these barriers. As a result of this work, it is anticipated that there will be various market options for this material in the near future. This expectation is based on both planned retrofits to existing plants to enable them to handle the variety of shapes and sizes associated with PET thermoforms; new plants being designed to accommodate PET thermoforms; and further work with the PET thermoform manufacturers to establish common adhesive and other “design for recycling” guidelines to address technical barriers to recycling. NAPCOR is committed to working on this issue until PET thermoforms can be labeled “recyclable” in the truest sense of the word (see http://www.napcor.com/PET/positions.html for the NAPCOR position statement on Use of the Term Recyclable), and is optimistic that its efforts will be successful.

NAPCOR acknowledges the strong support of this effort by Stewardship Ontario, Waste Diversion Ontario, The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), and the Canadian Plastic Industry Association (CPIA), without whose collective assistance we would not have made nearly the progress achieved to date.

UG! I have been pulling my hair out the last two days trying to condense my 10-page recycling report, available here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling, to 600 words for publication in PlasticsNews! After much frustration, I realized there is no way I can incorporate all the necessary facets in 600 words; therefore, what follows is my best attempt to simplify my findings while still being informative and of value to the industry.

Enjoy!

Being new to the plastics industry, it was just last year that I discovered that thermoformed packaging, like the clamshells, blisters and trays Dordan manufacturers, are not recycled in 60% or more American communities; therefore, could not be considered “recyclable” according to the FTC’s Green Guides’ definition. While everything is theoretically “recyclable,” only those packaging/material types that are collected post consumer in the “substantial majority of American communities” and sold for reprocessing can be considered recycled/recyclable.

Upon this discovery I began researching what obstacles had historically kept thermoforms out of the recycling infrastructure, in hopes that in isolating the problems, the industry could begin developing solutions. However, I wasn’t alone in this inquiry; organizations like NAPCOR, APR, and others have long identified the market potential of post consumer thermoform recyclate and are working with stakeholders to develop the necessary infrastructure, markets, and technology to facilitate the recycling of thermoforms. Therefore, for a more technical treatment of the progress that is being made in recycling thermoforms, consult the work of the APR, NAPCOR, and their industry partners.

After a year of independent research on recycling, I published my “Recycling Report: the truth about clamshell and blister recycling in America with suggestions for the industry,” which outlines my understanding of the economics dictating the recycling of thermoformed packaging. It is important to note that I in no way intend to present myself as an expert on recycling thermoforms, nor do I intend my Report to be interpreted as an exhaustive study on the topic. That being said, I do feel as though my Report adds to the ongoing discussion surrounding recycling insofar as it presents a concise overview of why certain packaging/material types, like PET/RPET bottles, are recycled, while others, like PET/RPET thermoforms, are not. In addition, I hope that my Report can be interpreted as an analogy for other packaging/material types insofar as while there are dramatic differences between the various post consumer materials’ markets, there are similarities, which when understood, could facilitate the increased diversion of all packaging materials from the waste stream.

What follows is a brief summary of my findings, described in depth in my Recycling Report.

Key findings:

There are three popular approaches to recycling thermoforms:

1. Recycle PET/RPET thermoforms with PET/RPET bottles;
2. Recycle all PET/RPET thermoforms together, separate from PET/RPET bottle stream;
3. Recycle all mixed resin thermoforms together in a low grade plastic mix.

Depending on the approach taken, there are different end markets for the reprocessed material; therefore, different collecting, sorting, cleaning and baling considerations. Due to the confines of the allotted space, I can’t discuss the implications of the various approaches. Regardless of the approach taken, however, the following issues need to be considered:

Basic recycling considerations:

Supply and demand: In order for a package/material type to be collected via curbside or other systems for recycling, there has to be a buyer/end market for the post consumer material. The buyer/end market requires a certain quantity and quality of material, often times outlined in “specs.” For those materials not currently recycled, the supply and demand equilibrium is often described via the chicken and egg analogy: a material/packaging type will not be collected if there is no demand for the post consumer material; there is no demand for the post consumer material if there is no supply available for reprocessing.

Specs: Every package/material type that is collected for recycling has specs, which indicate to the MRF/reclaimer what is allowed in the bale for resale and what is not. For instance, most PET bottle specs indicate that only clear, think neck PET bottles are accepted for reprocessesing, while all other PET rigid containers are not. The development of specs for PET/RPET thermoform and PET/RPET bottle bales, PET/RPET thermoform-only bales, and mixed resin thermoform bales are crucial for the ability of MRFs to sort and bale thermoforms for resale; hence, recycling.

Sorting: For a package/material type to be recycled there has to be a way to efficiently sort the desired material from the material destined for landfill at the MRF/reclaimer level. The more efficient the sorting technology, the lower the cost to “recycle” the material; therefore, the more economically competitive the reprocessed material/product will be in the market. Optical sorting (near Infra-red) can successfully sort PET/RPET thermoforms from other “look-a-likes,” like PVC, a known contaminant to the PET recyclate stream.

Contaminants: The buyer/end market of the post consumer material determines what is considered a contaminant to the material. This dramatically informs how the material is collected, sorted, cleaned and baled for resale because contaminants are reclaimers number one obstacle: if the bale does not meet specs for the buyer/end market, the material will not be sold and recycled.

In short, the recycling of thermoforms depends on the ability to collect, transport, sort, clean, bale and remanufacture into new material/products in an economically competitive way with virgin material/product production. Issues such as adequate supply and demand, best sorting, cleaning, and baling processes, and reprocessing/remanufacturing technologies need to be addressed in order to incorporate thermoforms into the recycling infrastructure. For more information on how these considerations specifically inform recycling thermoforms, I urge you to download the entire Recycling Report at http://www.dordan.com. I will also be presenting these findings and more at Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 in Atlanta, December 8th and 9th. I look forward to seeing you there!

Good news!

October 13, 2010

Good news everyone!

The progress that is being made in recycling thermoforms will be available to the public sometime next week in the appendix of APRs/NAPCORs Report on PET Container Recycling Activity. Look out for it!

I am working on an abstract of my report on recycling thermoforms for publication in PlasticsNews. Upon its completion, I will post it here, so you—my packaging and sustainability friends—can read it first!

Have a splendid afternoon!