Day 26: Nov. 21st, 2009

March 11, 2010

Hello world! Sorry I did not post yesterday—I was at home with the flu, boo. It was a rocking 60 degrees in Chicago yesterday, which sort of stinks, because I was at home in bed. I hope all those healthy Chicagoians had a blast, though.

And guess what: Because my blog is actually getting some attention (I have a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Walmart Canada about my efforts) my Superior told me I could resume my clamshell recycling initiative! He had told me to shelve my efforts because he wanted me to focus on things that would help Dordan—and not just the plastic industry in general—which was kind of my approach to finding a way to recycle thermoforms. Even in the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com I emphasized collaboration among the various thermoformers in the Midwest, which, any good business person knows, means working with your competition. Thank goodness for my Superior; without him I would probably completely forget that I was working in a business and not a classroom.

Having received the green light from my Superior, I just scheduled a meeting with our material supplier to determine why she does not like receiving PET bales with RPET/PET thermoforms in the mix.

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

The next day I sent the following email to Robert Carlson of the CA EPA in response to his very insightful email that he sent me:

Hey!

Thanks for the email—super helpful and insightful. I am so glad I met you! I have recently been seeing how ruthless business can be and how everything has an angle or an agenda so it is nice to have a dialogue with someone who does not have any invested interest in the outcome of our conversations. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me as it’s difficult not to get jaded about being committed to sustainability only to discover that most are not and are just looking for a way to make a quick buck and using the sustainability movement to get their foot in the door. I dislike how people use the environment as a form of ethical manipulation for consumers. It is very bizarre but I guess the business world is very different from the academic world. I feel like I have so much to learn!

I actually got a really good response to some of the questions below on greenerpackage.com. I started a discussion about PET recycling and a member of the APR responded with very helpful insight. If you have a sec, you should check it out!

As per your response, you said that in CA, collectors accept mixed plastic 1-7. Do you know where/how these plastics are sorted? Do you know who the buyer is of these mixed plastic materials? I know that there is a market for mixed rigid plastic packaging on the East and West coasts because China buys it to incinerate it for energy. Ohhhh, the irony. At the same time, however, you explained that the end-market for mixed plastic is in plastic lumber operations. How can I find similar applications for mixed plastic in the Midwest?

In regard to your feedback about having consumers separate their packaging materials before leaving the store: All the obstacles you mentioned are being articulated to me by various people within the company: How do you change a consumer behavior? Who would pay to collect and reprocess the material? How would you get retailers on board? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but hopefully if I get an interview with a powerful retailer, perhaps we can make some strides in the right direction…

Do you think their will be any EPR legislation passed on packaging materials in the near future? Perhaps that is what is needed to motivate retailers to reclaim the packaging of their consumer goods…Do you think PVC will be banned in the near future (it would make it easier to implement a plastic packaging recycling program…)?

The SPC doesn’t want to tackle this issue, which is too bad, because I thought collaboration among the various plastic packaging manufacturers would be a great place to start. I don’t know if you have any other suggestions.

I am considering going to Akron, OH on Dec 9th for a technology showing of Polyflow. At the same time, however, my Superior doesn’t know what advantage that would have for us as a for-profit, which stinks. I would really like to speak with reps from Polyflow to understand the logistics of how they power the facility, where the emissions go, if there are any, and what contracts they have with municipalities to provide the raw material they need. In other words, would they work out a contract with municipalities where they would collect all plastic materials that are currently not recycled to be sent to Polyflow for energy recovery? If so, should I develop a dialogue with local municipalities to support this technology?

As per your discussion of the Starbucks pilot recycling program, you mentioned that they recycler they are working with “is known for taking and sorting everything.” Who are these mysterious MRFs? Do you think I could get in contact with them?

I know this is another intense email so if you would prefer to chat about it instead of emailing me back, that would be swell! I know you are busy so take your time as these are all ongoing inquiries and projects. Again, thanks for all your help—I feel like I am learning a ton.

Have a jolly good weekend and if I don’t hear from you, a tasty Turkey day!

P.S. Your “plastics expert” never got back to me.

Best,

Chandler

As those who have been following my blog know, I had taken my clamshell recycling initiative to the SPC hoping they may want to introduce this to the member-companies to see if this project would be of interest to the organization. I had spoken with several SPC project managers about the feasibility of this project, and to my disappointment, they did not feel as though this could be logistically introduced right now: the scope was too large and the approach to vague. The email below was in response to a project manager who had provided me with some information about non-bottle PET recycling.

Hey,

Thanks for this! I am talking with WM, the greenerpackage.com business director, NAPCOR, California Waste Management EPA and SPI to see how PET packaging can be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure. I understand all the challenges that you outlined, but I still feel that we can create a market for recycled PET packaging, within or without the existing PET bottle flake recycling infrastructure. If this is a project of interest for the SPC, I would love to contribute. Otherwise, I will keep the SPC updated on the status of our recycling initiative.

Have a great weekend!

Best,

Chandler

I had sent this email several weeks ago and had not heard back so I assumed, as in the conversations with other representatives from the SPC, that this recycling initiative was not of interest to the SPC at this time.

In the email above where I said that the “plastics expert” had not gotten back to me, I was referring to a previous suggestion of Robert to contact the plastic rep at the CA Board of Integrated Waste Management. I sent the email below to this contact following Robert’s suggestion:

Hey,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a Midwestern based custom design thermoformer of plastic clamshells, blisters, etc. I met Robert in Atlanta for the members-only Sustainable Packaging Coalitions’ fall meeting. Robert and I have been chatting about packaging and waste management ever since.

I am trying to find a way to recycle our RPET packages, either within the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, or by creating a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packages. I have dialogues going with several contacts at WM and it seems as though this initiative is difficult to implement for various reasons.

In regard to creating a new end of life market for mixed rigid plastic packages: This seems more difficult to implement in the near future because the quantity is not there, as is the case with PET bottles. Moreover, because of all the different materials in various kinds of plastic packaging (food, medical, consumer goods), it is difficult to collect enough of any one material to find an end market for it. In a nut shell: the cost to collect, sort and reprocess mixed rigid plastic packages (after PET bottles have been removed for end of life recovery) exceeds the cost of virgin material for plastic packages.

As eluded to by Robert, PVC packages are a problem because they contaminate the PET waste stream. I received a similar perception from the SPC, who explained that plastic packages, even if PET or RPET, are not recycled because of the possibility of having a PVC package get into the bale. What I don’t understand, however, is where are mixed rigid packages even collected for recycling where the PVC contamination would be an issue? My rep at WM explained that buyers of baled PET bottles don’t want plastic packages (clamshells) in the bales because the possibility that one may be PVC. This, however, implies that there could be a market for rigid plastic packages (PET, RPET) outside of the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. Do you know where or by whom mixed rigid plastic packages are collected for recycling?

In regard to integrating our RPET packages into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure: Currently, I have sent out 50 RPET clamshell samples to my contact at WM to run through their optical sorting technology to see if our RPET material is compatible with the PET bottle material (same IVs and what not). If so, we could maybe find a buyer of a mixed bale of PET bottles and RPET plastic packages (non food). After all, we have certification from our suppliers that our RPET has a minimum 70% recycled content (from PET bottles); therefore, one would assume that our material would be very similar to the PET bottle material and as such, have an end market because the quantity is already there, we are just adding to it. Moreover, if we can ensure that our plastic packages are compatible with the PET bottle material, we may be able to have our material supplier buy the mixed baled PET bottles and RPET packages to be reground and sold back to us, thus being closed loop.

As the plastics expert at the California Integrated Waste Management Board, what do you think about the above described scenarios? What do you think is a good approach to finding a way to recycle our RPET plastic packages?

Honestly, any insight you could provide would be very well received; I feel as though I have hit a wall and don’t know where to go from here.

One more thing: What do you think of Pryolysis? Robert explained it as “down cycling,” which implies it is a less superior form of material recovery than recycling. At the same time, however, I have a dialogue going with a rep from Polyflow, which converts mixed flexible and rigid plastic packages into gasoline diesel fuels? I have attached a white page from the rep at Polyflow, which explains its technology. He explains that the cost of processing unwanted mixed plastic package via Polyflow is comparable to the cost of land filling this unwanted material. Please see the attached document, if interested, and let me know if you think this is a viable option for managing plastic packaging waste.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

Chandler

To my disappointment, I never received feedback from this contact.

Tune in Monday to see where this clamshell recycling initiative takes me next!

Day 23: Nov. 17th, 2009

March 3, 2010

Its sunny today, which in Chicago in March is no small feat!

Sorry if today’s post seems repetitive…if you hadn’t noticed, I am trying to describe my attempts at finding an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging as a story, a narrative of sorts, which moves chronologically through time on the vehicle of email exchanges between myself and others in the plastics, sustainability, and recycling industries. I realized that I had omitted an email exchange between myself and Robert Carlson of the CA EPA from November 16th, so I edited yesterday’s post to be more “real.”

Because Robert with the CA EPA seemed extra-curious about what I meant by “I have so much to tell you,” I sent him the following email upon my arrival to the office on November 17th:

Hey Robert,

So here’s the update on everything:

I have been talking with various people in WM, SPI, SPC, etc. to determine what the feasibility is of establishing: (1) either a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packages or, (2) integrating our RPET packages (non-food) into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure.

In regard to the former option: This seems more difficult to implement in the near future because the quantity is not there, as is the case with PET bottles. Moreover, because of all the different materials in various kinds of plastic packaging (food, medical, consumer goods), it is difficult to collect enough of any one material to find an end market for it. At the same time, however, I am cooking up an idea where we would form a partnership with a retailer in order to provide them with guidelines for all plastic packaging. Our guidelines would dictate that all plastic packages sold at this retailer would have to be of the same type of material, in order to establish the quantity necessary to find an end market for it. We could even go so far as to require customers to open their consumer goods’ packages in store and place the plastic and paper components into collection bins, to be hauled away by a contracted third-party. I believe they do this at some European retail chains. I am trying to find more information on the logistics of this approach.

There is also the option to “down-cycle” as you put it. I have a dialogue going with a rep from Polyflow who explained that they would buy mixed rigid and flexible plastic packaging, with or without food contamination, and convert it to gasoline diesel fuels. I have attached a white paper from Polyflow, which discusses its capabilities. Apparently, the cost to landfill is comparable to the cost to process this unwanted material in the Polyflow facility. I know you explained why this option is seen as less superior to recycling but I believe that this may be a better option for the polymer industry, especially as new additives and materials emerge on the market. Please see the attached sheet, if interested, and let me know what you think of this as an option for waste management.

In regard to the second option: As you alluded to, PVC packages are a problem because they contaminate the PET waste stream. I received a similar perceptive from an anonymous non-profit, who explained that plastic packages, even if PET or RPET, are not recycled because of the possibility of having a PVC package get into the bale. What I don’t understand, however, is where are mixed rigid packages even collected for recycling where the PVC contamination would be an issue? My rep at WM explained that buyers of baled PET bottles don’t want plastic packages (clamshells) in the bales because the possibility that one may be PVC. This, however, implies that there could be a market for rigid plastic packages (PET, RPET) outside of the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. Do you know where or by whom mixed rigid plastic packages are collected for recycling?

Currently, I have sent out 50 RPET clamshell samples to my contact at WM to run through their optical sorting technology to see if our RPET material is compatible with the PET bottle material (same IVs and what not). If so, we could maybe find a buyer of a mixed bale of PET bottles and RPET plastic packages (non food). After all, we have certification from our suppliers that our RPET has a minimum 70% recycled content (from PET bottles); therefore, one would assume that our material would be very similar to the PET bottle material and as such, have an end market because the quantity is already there, we are just adding to it. Moreover, if we can ensure that our plastic packages are compatible with the PET bottle material, we may be able to have our material supplier buy the mixed baled PET bottles and RPET packages to be reground and sold back to us, thus being closed loop.

I am still waiting to talk with the Environmental Director at Starbucks in regard to how the buyers of baled corrugate are dealing with the introduction of a new material (coffee cups). I believe we have a similar situation with buyers of baled PET bottles—they don’t want to introduce a new type of product (RPET clams, blisters, etc.) into their collection protocol.

We also just subscribed to COMPASS, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s comparative life cycle packaging assessment tool, which allows us to see the environmental ramifications of our material choices in the design phase; cool beans!

AND, I am kicking off a new marketing campaign for Dordan for 2010—I’ll keep you posted!

So that’s that. How are things with you? What is making you so busy?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Tune in tomorrow to see where my recycling initiative takes me next!

And resume scene:

As I waited for Recycle America’s educational tour guide’s response to my inquiries, I followed up with Robert about Polyflow. As you will recall, I sent Robert an email asking if he knew about Polyflow and if so, what he thought of this form of waste management.

This is what I learned:

Chandler,

What Polyflow is describing is called Pyrolysis and the technology is not unique to this company.  I’m not sure about the “vapor” part though…  There are discussions regarding this method in CA and elsewhere.  In CA, we don’t use energy recovery as a part of recycling (or diversion) so the portion of the pyrolysis that results in diesel or other fuels would not be counted in our recycling numbers.  Also, some people are afraid that if the “easy” option is presented (the same goes for incineration) then recycling for higher and better uses will have no appeal.  Using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product.  For some plastics, there are not other mechanical recycling options available, but the fear is that this kind of thing would prevent new technologies being developed, that people would stop trying to find better options if the easy option is available.

Further, the analyses I’ve seen on the environmental/energetic impacts of mechanical recycling versus pyrolysis puts mechanical ahead of the game pretty much under every circumstance (assuming there is infrastructure). 

I don’t mean to shatter your hopes…it’s a good technology, and would be appropriate for a few materials that have no other options (in my personal opinion), however I think there would be challenges to implementing it wholesale (at least in CA…perhaps Il is different).

I’m surprised that the Sustainability Director of Starbucks hasn’t contacted you, he seemed interested in speaking.  I wonder if perhaps your email simply got buried.  Have you tried sending him the email again?  I’ve looked around here and I’m not sure that we really have a person on the local level that would be particularly suited.  I suppose I’m it…sorry!!

Robert

Hmmmmmm using plastics for energy is seen as a lower use than using it for a new product? That’s interesting; I didn’t know there was a hierarchy to waste management. If most plastic packaging ends up in a land fill, wouldn’t a better option be waste-to-energy? If easier, why not utilize the technology until the recycling infrastructure catches up? I wonder why CA doesn’t count this form of recovery into their recycling numbers. This seems sort of odd…

As I tried to sort through the implications of Robert’s response, I received an email from the Sustainability Director at Starbucks, yippee! He agreed to chat with me about implementing a pilot-recycling program in several NY Starbucks stores.

Little old me, I remember thinking. This is big time!

The actual email has not been included for privacy considerations.

Upon setting up a phone interview with the Sustainability Coordinator of Starbucks, I sent the following email to Robert:

Hey Robert,

Thanks for your feedback. I feel so silly; the rep from Polyflow didn’t even mention Pyrolysis, which I know about and know is not unique to this company. Thanks for clarification!

As it turns out, the Sustainability Director of Starbucks is available to talk with me, and my email did get lost in the plasma that is the internet, so thank you! I also have been engaging in dialogue with various people in Waste Management trying to figure out a way to recapture PET clamshells and what not, so I feel as though I am on the right track.

So until next time, take care and thanks again for all your help; I really appreciate it!

What are you doing for Halloween? I dressed up as a man for our office party and just got done handing out candy to everyone in the plant. It is fun to be a man for a day!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Cheers!

Day 11: Oct. 25, 2009

February 5, 2010

Happy Friday!

I finally figured out how to add tags to my posts, hurray!

After tagging it up, I tried searching one of my tags in the wordpress.com search engine. I started with “clamshells” and what I found was all sorts of crazy stuff. My favorite is “Death to the Clamshell” at: http://envirogy.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/death-to-the-clamshell/. Check out my reply, it’s the last one.

Anyway, while waiting for the educational tour guide’s response, I began researching incineration as a form of energy recovery for plastic packaging. As briefly discussed in my last post, Belgium is at a 96% packaging waste recovery rate because of their sophisticated recycling and incineration infrastructure. That which they can’t recycle, they incinerate. Why don’t we do that here, I wondered.

After several googling sessions, I stumbled upon this “new” technology called Polyflow. I called the number provided on the website…

After a quick Q&A with their rep, I was a little skeptical about this technology because it just sounded too good to be true. Because I didn’t know much about it, I sent Robert the following inquiry:

Hey Robert,

How’s it going? I saw Where the Wild Things Are this past weekend and it was AWSOME! You must see it at your earliest convenience.

Okay, I don’t want to be a nuisance, but have you heard of Polyflow? It is this new technology that breaks the plastic polymer chain down into its chemical components by vapor and then reconstructs the molecules in order to create diesel and fossil fuel and the monomers that make plastic polymers. This technology supposedly takes all types of plastics not currently recycled by single stream and provides the feedstock for the above mentioned products. I spoke with a representative from Polyflow and he says that this system will be economically and environmentally sustainable next year but that they are still in the pilot phase and need additional funding to construct the actual facility that will house this technology.

Any knowledge about this waste management alternative?

Moreover, I have not heard back from the Environmental Director of Starbucks and was wondering if you had unearthed any contacts at your organization that would be able to help me implement my recycling program. I have a dialogue going with SPI, our industry association, but they don’t think the economics will support it.

Hope all is well!

Best,

Chandler

My reference to SPI, the Society of Plastics Industry, was legitimate; I had spoken with one of their reps about my concerns about the environmental and plastic, specifically, recycling, and it went no where.

I first spoke with the Senior Director of State Affairs, who does a lot of petitioning for plastic on our industry’s behalf. She was aware of all the obstacles facing our industry but didn’t seem interested in helping me increase the recycling rates of plastic packaging because, as she explained, it is just not economical: If people can buy virgin resin for cheaper than recycled resin why would we work to create an end-of-life market for mixed rigid plastic packaging?

My one suggestion was to change the SPI resin ID numbers on the back of plastic packages. For instance, the number “1” indicates PET but doesn’t specify the various fillers added to the PET polymer to enhance/alter its properties. Therefore, we manufacture APET, RPET, RPETG, PETG, etc. and they are all labeled as “1” as mandated by the SPI. Because of the different additives in these polymers, the recycling facility won’t accept any thermoforms labeled “1” because they do not know how that specific additive will influence the overall integrity of the bale. Therefore, although it may be the same material as that in PET bottles, they can’t integrate it into the bales to be reprocessed for fear of contamination.

As an aside, PLA is just making its introduction into the market and I don’t know if it has been assigned a resin ID number; therefore, sorters may not be able to distinguish PLA bottles from PET bottles, thereby increasing the chances that the PET stream will be contaminated by PLA. I don’t know what the PLA people have to say about it…I will follow up with some more research in future posts.

Do check out this article; it may provide insight into the ramifications of incorporating into the PET recycling stream: http://www.linkedin.com/news?viewArticle=&articleID=107200234&gid=160429&srchCat=RCNT&articleURL=http%3A%2F%2Fblogpackaging%2Eblogspot%2Ecom%2F2010%2F02%2Fbioplastics-and-oxo-degradables%2Ehtml&urlhash=oSuc.

Anyway, I suggested that SPI be proactive and work with recyclers to develop the best labeling for resins to increase the recyclability of plastic packaging. Although this contact did not know exactly how the SPI was handling the resin ID number situation, she did say that they had a subcommittee devoted to the investigation of these issues and she would follow up with me about this subcommittee…  

Tune in Monday to see Robert’s response to my Polyflow inquiry. Good stuff to come; have a splendid weekend!