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 guys!

Sooo guess what: I have been invited to speak at Green Manufacturer’s Zero-Waste-to-Landfill workshop in NC with a tour of Burt’s Bees to boot! I am soooo excited to see where Burt’s Bees products are manufactured as I, for the most part, have only been to packaging manufacturing and fulfillment plants. I hope there are free samples!

I was invited to speak by FMA—the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International—, which is the publishing house behind Green Manufacturer. I am to be part of the Vendor Panel “Best Practices for Landfill Elimination” and present on what steps might be taken and when to facilitate PET thermoform recycling. The event organizer said that the audience at these workshops is generally of a more informed level and often lively! My kinda crowd!

Because I hate presenting on the same content more then once as I like the thrill of pending public humiliation, I thought it would be cool to begin moving the dialogue on our clamshell recycling initiative forward. See the email below to see what’s what.

Hey!

After brainstorming on how best to present my content, I think it would be a good approach to just explain Dordan’s story (as narrated in the Green Manufacturer article), the progress in PET thermoform recycling resulting thereafter, and what further steps may be taken and when to facilitate increased PET thermoform recycling. Do you think it would be in the audience’s interest to expand into a discussion of the initiative’s “take-aways” i.e. how to divert consumer product packaging from landfill through industry collaboration, investment in infrastructure, development of domestic end markets, etc.? In a nut shell, how focused should I be on recycling thermoformed containers exclusively and what attention, if any, should I give to barriers keeping consumer product packaging in general from being recycled in America?

I think it would be cool to begin with a microcosmic approach on thermoform container diversion and expand to a macrocosmic assessment of how to increase the diversion of CPG packaging waste post-consumer. Let me know your thoughts and I will begin working on a PPT.

Thanks!

Chandler

Upon completion of my mini-presentation I will post here for your viewing pleasure. After which, I will post on updates from the Material Health working group of the SPC as per the last meeting in Texas; and, hopefully give you some feedback from the Walmart SVN November 17th, which I was unable to attend due to stupid tonsils.

Hey yall!

Sooo I know I said I was going to post today on the SPC meeting BUT I recieved a response to yesterday’s post from Ron Sherga who is super duper well versed in PET recycling. He is currently an advisor on recycling and sustainable strategies at Heritage Environmental Services, as per his LinkedIn profile.

Check out our exchange below:

Chandler, here are the challenges in regards to your question.

Basically, there are two ways to sort on a large scale commercial level.

One is using optic sorting equipment, or more accurately, near infrared or NIR. this will not work on black . There is no fast way to discern a black colored materials composition using fast scanning technology.

The second method is to size reduce and process thru a system where materials are separated based on their specific gravity. This is done using centrifuge machinery and various fluid designs…. But let’s call it a salt water medium.

Other than these and hand sorting (which relies on eyesight and touch); that’s about it.

And my response:

Hey thanks!

I understand that the sortation technologies you describe are usually employed at the MRF/PRF facility…what I am interested in are the types of machines companies like S+S Sorting manufacture, which are often bought by the big wigs of PET recycling (Coke), and therefore more proactive in recycling PET materials into RPET flake, bottles, etc. In other words, I am trying to learn more about the privatization of PET recycling technology and why this technology is only being designed to recycle PET bottles. Does this make sense? I confuse myself sometimes!

Hmmmmm…

More details to come following my conference call with S+S Sorting!

Tomorrow’s post WILL discuss feedback from the SPC meeting, specifically, the SPC’s suggestion of “collective reporting” amongst it’s member companies.

AND, did you guys know of this conference!?! It was just brought to my attention, but looks AMAZING!

OH, and check out this Packaging Digest article— your powerhouse in stilletos is quoted, ha! I think if my head gets any bigger, it’s going to explode! But in an awesome way.

Tootles!

Hello and happy Halloween! Here is a pic of me and my sister, who is dressed as Morticia from the Addams Family!

As per my post titled “Humbled by the Machine,” I sense a hole in my analysis of the recyclability of clamshell packaging in the context of machine technology. Below is the email I alluded to in said post, which I sent to a representative from S+S Separation and Sorting Technology GmbH following our meeting at the Polyester Extrusion and Recycling Forum.

Hello,

This is Chandler with Dordan—we presented in the same panel at the Polyester Extrusion and Recycling Forum in Chicago on October 11th. I presented on obstacles to recycling PET thermoforms within the existing municipally-owned waste management infrastructure. Remember?

I hope this email finds you well!

I was hoping you could help explain why the sorting technology your company manufacturers is only designed to reprocesses PET bottles, as opposed to PET thermoforms or other variants of PET. Is there a technical difference between bottle-grade PET and thermo-grade PET insofar as your machines’ ability to reprocess the material successfully? In other words, if your machines accepted mixed bales of PET bottles and thermoforms would they be able to “reprocess” the material into bottle-grade PET flake/pellets? Would the thermo-grade PET be interpreted as a contaminate or undetectable to the sortation technology?
I am just trying to better understand your technology and its application to our market.

If you would prefer to arrange a time we can chat via phone, please let me know your availability for the next week or two.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

And his response:

Hi Chandler,

Nice to hear from you. I am travelling at the moment and will be back in office next Wednesday.
For sure there will be time to discuss your questions.In addition to this my colleague in the USA is also available for any direct support.I am looking forward to contact you next week.

Best regards.

Nice! And the journey of inquiry continues!

Have a ghoulishly good Halloween my packaging and sustainability friends! Tomorrow’s post will discuss feedback from the members-only Sustainable Packaging Coalition meeting I attended in Dallas. Stay tuned!

Hey and happy Friday!

Check out this PlasticsNews article! Good stuff!!!

Canadian grocery chains to require clamshell suppliers to shift to PET
By Rhoda Miel | PLASTICS NEWS STAFF
Posted June 23, 2011

TORONTO (June 23, 3:35 p.m. ET) — Canada’s top five grocery chains will require its suppliers to shift to PET for clamshell thermoformed packaging in a move designed to simplify the product stream and increase recycling.

Wal-Mart Canada Corp. officials are also talking to suppliers across national boundaries for the initiative, and expect it will expand as part of the increased emphasis on sustainability for the world’s biggest retailer.

“Right now, there are 5.8 billion pounds of [thermoformed] packaging going into landfills in North America each year. Our goal is to facilitate the recycling of that material,” said Guy McGuffin, vice president of sustainable packaging for Wal-Mart Canada of Mississauga, Ontario, during the Wal-Mart Sustainable Packaging Conference June 22 as part of PackEx Toronto.

“The idea is to move away from materials that are not easily recycled and into materials that are more easily recycled. If we work together, we believe we can recover that 5.8 billion pounds, which would be a fantastic result.”

PET is already widely recycled, with a recycling stream already in place for bottles. Pushing for PET and eliminating, as much as possible, “look-alike” plastics which complicate recovery — and discourage both municipal recycling collections and recyclers from taking clamshell containers — the retailers believe they will open the floodgates for more thermoformed PET collection and reuse.

Other materials may have their use, but the retailers believe PET can provide an adequate substitute. In those cases when PET is not viable, it will encourage polystyrene. Polylactic acid containers have their own “green” credentials, officials said, but using it in thermoforming just complicates an already overly-complex set of obstacles to recycling, so Wal-Mart and other stores preferred PET as the industry standard.

In addition, retailers are working with the Adhesive and Sealant Council and the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers on a set of guidelines for labeling adhesives that will eliminate contamination from glues and labels.

The Retail Council of Canadian Grocers will require all labels to meet APR-certified adhesives by Jan. 1, said Christian Shelepuk, waste reduction program manager for Wal-Mart Canada.

Canada’s biggest grocery store chain, Loblaws Inc. of Brampton, Ontario, first contacted the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., in summer 2010, wanting to eliminate unrecyclable packaging, said Mike Schedler, technical director for NAPCOR.

When it was told that its 1,400 stores still would not create enough critical mass to bring PET clamshell recycling into the mainstream, it began working with other Canadian firms — Wal-Mart, Safeway Canada, Metro and Sobeys — in a cooperative effort to bring about the change.

The companies have coordinated the project through the Retail Council of Canada’s grocery group, working with recyclers and recycled PET users to identify and solve issues that would derail its efforts.

Ontario’s extended producer responsibility regulations, which give companies more responsibility for their waste, is helping prod the move, Schedler said.

“There are a lot more market drivers in Canada than in the U.S. that are very visible and pushing this forward,” he said. “The amount of dollars they would have to pay for their unrecycled material would not be insignificant.”

Early on, the group came together around a bale of used thermoformed PET containers and got a quick lesson on one of the primary problems, said Leon Hall, manager of sustainable packaging for Wal-Mart Canada.

When they cut apart the bindings holding the containers together, the bale held its shape. Glue used on the labels was strong enough to hold the compacted plastics together — and contaminate the entire bale, Hall said. Even if separated, the glue would gum up machinery, and current washing methods used to separate labels from bottles in PET bottle recycling did not work with the adhesives used in thermoforming.

In November, the retailers began working with the Adhesive and Sealant Council to tackle the glue problem. The groups decided the best solution would be to adapt to sealants that already work on PET bottles, said Matt Croson, president and CEO of the Bethesda, Md.-based ASC.

Adhesive makers must register their products with the APR by July 15. APR will then test and certify those adhesives as working with existing cleaning systems already in place for PET bottles. By Jan. 1, the retailer’s group will require its suppliers to use thermoform packaging that meets APR guidelines.

“This one’s not complicated,” Hall said. “Choose materials that can be recycled and while you’re at it, fix the adhesive, because that [label] doesn’t need to stay on there forever.”

It is not just the adhesives getting extra attention, however. During testing, Wal-Mart discovered that the Chilean-based supplier of blueberries was using a fluorescent blue additive in its PET packaging to make the berries look better, he said. That produced a recycled flake that did not meet standards. Wal-Mart is now working on global specifications for those and other additives which contaminate the stream.

With those changes, recyclers should be able to loop thermoformed PET into its existing bottle feedstock.

“We have the capability to manage thermoforms if they’re mixed in with the bottle flow,” said Ryan L’Abbé, vice president and general manager of private label water bottler Ice River Springs Water Company Inc.’s PET recycling unit, Blue Mountain Plastics Division.

Ice River, based in Feversham, Ontario, opened its own PET recycling plant in Shelbourne, Ontario. It collects PET from municipal recycling programs in Ontario, Michigan and New York and sorts, cleans and grinds to flake. It then uses the flake in its in-house PET extrusion, pre-forms and blow molding.

“We need more recycled content,” L’Abbé said. “We want to put (PET) into a product that’s recycled again and again and again. We can really consume a lot of the thermoforms that are in the market currently, and that’s a big benefit.”

The project will also benefit more than bottlers or retailers. Shelepuk said Wal-Mart estimates the recycled content of mixed plastics now in thermoformed packaging is worth $120 a ton, but that should climb to $600 per ton as part of the PET stream. That kind of money at high volume will pay for the recycling process, he said.

In addition, the companies estimate that PET packaging recycling across North American could create more than 20,000 jobs.

“As an industry,” Hall said, “we can make this happen.”

Plastics News staff reporter Mike Verespej contributed to this report.