Best laid plans…

August 16, 2011

Goodness gracious how I have missed you, my packaging and sustainability friends! The last couple weeks have been absolutely CRAZY, which is why I have failed to post recently. Let’s see where did we leave off…that’s right, The Truth about Plastic Packaging Report! As narrated in my last several posts, I wanted to use Dordan’s sponsorship of Packaging World’s New Issue Alert as the platform to release our newest research report, titled The Truth about Plastic Packaging in reference to our first research report, The Truth about Recycling©. The motivation for this project stemmed from several happenings, the most prominent, reading Susan Freinkel’s recently published Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. This book is an in-depth look at “plastic” as it exists in the social imaginations of the Western world and is in dialogue with the various social and environmental issues pertaining thereto. Having no ties to special interests groups (to my knowledge), Freinkel presents a fair, well-researched treatment of plastics as they have come to proliferate the modern world. Her objective, academic approach provided me—as a representative of the plastics industry—with tons of food for thought; so much so I decided it would best be analyzed and applied in a research report of my own. Thereafter, I set upon a new research venture that looked to expose the realities of plastics as they pertain to us and our environment in hopes that in painting a contextualized portrait of plastics, the industry would better understand both the obstacles that exist, and opportunities ahead, for plastics.

And behold the genesis of The Truth about Plastic Packaging Report! While in the thick of it, however, I quickly discovered that this was a massive undertaking: there was no way I could discuss and contextualize PVC and BPA, ocean debris, end of life management issues, AND “green” plastics in one research report. Sooooo I decided to break it into a series, as discussed in a previous post, the first of which, titled The Truth about BPA & PVC. Upon completion of this task, however, something just didn’t sit right with me. Why was I talking about how the additive in flexible PVC (DEHP) may or may not be contributing to the contemporary discourse on “endocrine disruptors”? What does this do for the thermoforming, and larger plastics, industry?

Perhaps my real hesitation with publishing The Truth about BPA & PVC was the feedback I got from my friend and colleague from CalRecycle, formally of the California Board of Integrated Waste Management, who provided a great deal of insight into my first report, The Truth about Recycling. After reading The Truth about BPA & PVC he became concerned that the argument I took was outdated and reflective of my bias as a representative of the plastics industry. He explained that the way I critiqued the studies investigating the effects of phthalates like DEHP on the endocrine system (the complex network of glands that produces hormones that govern growth, development, metabolism and reproduction) was similar to that of the ACC, which reasons: the test sample size is too small, rats are poor models of human health hazards, the dose administered in animal studies are much higher than those experienced in humans, and, the demonstrative health qualities are not necessarily adverse*. I explained to my colleague that I was not making an argument akin to the ACC; I was just describing the contemporary studies on the matter and the discourse resulting therefrom as articulated in Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. Regardless of my intentions to present a fair treatment of plastics as contributing to discussions of “endocrine disruptors,” I concluded that I did not know enough about the matter to speak about it in The Truth about BPA & PVC. And in the vein of attempting to appear as though this decision was based on a deep-rooted philosophy of ethics as opposed to uncertainty over ones understanding of a complicated issue, let me quote Socrates: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing” (The Republic). Did it work; am I just dripping with depth?!?

To make a long story short, we are reverting back to our original plan to discuss The Truth about Plastic Packaging as one, mega-report. I will use the information I garnered for The Truth about BPA & PVC to inform my holistic discussion of plastics and the environment from the perspective of the Sustainability Coordinator at a family-owned plastics packaging manufacturer. While I will use Freinkel’s book as the backbone for the analysis, I will consult other sources in order to develop a multi-dimensional assessment of the current climate of plastics and the environment. SO, STAY TUNED!

If you are interested in a summary of the discussion on plastics and endocrine disruptors, check out the excerpts from my report below. As described at length above, take this information with a grain of salt as more research is needed to be performed on my end until I can understand and therefore discuss this complicated topic!

AND, I have my first conference call with the SPC/AMERIPEN today on financing end of life management for packaging materials! Wish me luck!

To check out the content that we DID use for our sponsorship of Pack World’s NIA, click here! Do you like the photo?!? It’s ME!

Excerpt from the unpublished Truth about BPA & PVC

Please note: WordPress format does not allow me to include footnotes; please email me at for a list of references.

Nowhere has plastic become more omnipresent then in modern healthcare. Dutch physician Willem Kolff, motivated by assurance that “what God can grow, Man can make,” scrounged sheets of cellophane and other materials in Nazi occupied Holland to perfect his kidney-dialysis machine. Today,

Plastic pacemakers keep faulty hearts pumping, and synthetic veins and arteries keep blood flowing. We replace our worn-out hips and knees with plastic ones; and, plastic scaffolding is used to grow new skin and tissues. Plastics supply the essential everyday equipment of medicine, from bedpans to bandages to single use gloves and syringes. With plastics, hospitals could shift from equipment that had to be sterilized to blister-packed disposables, which improved in-house safety, significant lowered costs, and made it possible for more patients to be cared for at home.

While medicine is a small market when compared with plastics’ other applications, it has been revered as the industry’s golden child, showcasing the benefits of polymers. Such association between plastics and healthcare was done so, however, on the presumption that plastics were safe and chemically inert. As Modern Plastics pointed out in a 1951 article titled Why Doctors are Using More Plastics, “Any substance that comes into contact with human tissue…must be chemically inert and non-toxic, as well as compatible with human tissue and not absorbable.” But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a sequence of findings began challenging this assumption of chemical stability.

PVC is one polymer used in healthcare for its presumed chemical stability. PVC has chlorine as one of its main components, a greenish gas that is derived from sodium chloride. To make PVC, the chlorine is mixed with hydrocarbons to form the monomer vinyl chloride, which is then polymerized, resulting in a fine white powder. “This unusual chemistry is PVC’s great strength, but also its greatest problem—the reason that industry sings its praises and that environmentalists call it Satan’s resin”: The chlorine base makes PVC chemically stable, fire resistant, waterproof and cheap (since less oil or gas is needed to produce the molecule); it also makes PVC dangerous to manufacture and hazardous to dispose of, because when incinerated it releases dioxins and furans, two carcinogenic compounds. PVC is also unusually “poly-amorous,” which means it tends to hook up with a variety of other chemicals, allowing it to be converted for an array of applications; without additives, PVC is so brittle it is basically useless. This versatility has made PVC one of the top-selling plastics in the world and a frequent choice for manufacturers of medical devices. Due to its dependence on additives, however, it has come under scrutiny.

Plasticized PVC is when the plastic is made soft and pliable through the addition of a clear, oily liquid called di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, a member of the phthalate family. Phthalates have become so ever-present in consumer and industrial products that manufacturers make nearly half a billion pounds of them each year; they’re used as plasticizers, lubricants, and solvents. While you’ll find phthalates in anything made of soft vinyl, they also exist in other types of materials, too. Examples include: food packaging and food processing equipment, construction materials, clothing, household furnishings, wallpaper, toys, personal-care products like cosmetics, shampoos and perfumes, adhesives, insecticides, waxes and inks, varnishes, lacquers, coatings, and paints. But our primary exposure to DEHP is through fatty foods such as cheese and oils, which are particularly likely to absorb the chemical, though it is unclear whether that is happening via plastic packaging, the inks used in food wrapping, or during commercial preparation and processing. There are about 25 different types of phthalates, but only about a half a dozen are widely used; of those, DEHP is one of the most popular, especially for medical devices.

In a 1969 experiment Johns Hopkins University toxicologists Robert Rubin and Rudolph Jaeger accidently discovered that DEHP was leaching out of PVC blood bags because DEHP is not atomically bonded to the molecular PVC daisy chain; therefore, can migrate out, especially in the presence of blood or fatty substances. Follow up studies found traces of DEHP in stored blood as well as in the tissues of people who had undergone blood transfusions. Thereafter, a chemist at the National Hearth and Lung Institute reported that he found residues of DEHP and other phthalates in blood samples taken from a sample population of one hundred people. Unlike the former findings, however, this population had not undergone extensive medical treatment; these people were simply the consumers of synthetic goods, those who may have been exposed to phthalates from any of thousands of everyday products, from cars to toys, wallpaper to writing. Today, at least 80% of Americans—of all ages, races and demographics—now carry measurable traces of DEHP and other phthalates in their bodies, according to biomonitoring studies by the Centers for Disease Control. Yet as the CDC has articulated, “the mere presence of DEHP in someone’s body does not mean it is a health hazard. The difficult question is whether the small amounts to which we are all exposed are significant to affect some people’s health.” Plastics manufacturers had long known that additives could and would leach out of polymers but maintained that people weren’t exposed to high enough levels to suffer any harm. After taking a hard look at DEHP and other phthalates, independent toxicologists came to the conclusion that only at very high doses could DEHP/phthalates cause birth defects in rodents and induce liver cancer in rats and mice, but only through a mechanism that rarely affects humans. Hence, it was concluded that there was no cause for concern, based on the fundamental principle of modern toxicology that the dose makes the poison.

This assumption that the dose makes the poison was challenged, however, by mom- turned-zoologist Theo Colborn, who began developing a different theory of toxic effects based on her work in the late 1980s at the Conservation Foundation in Washington. Enlisted to research the effects of pesticides and synthetic chemicals on the Great Lakes wildlife, Colborn found “weird, eerie accounts of chicks wasting away, cormorants born with missing eyes and crossed bills, male gulls with female cells in their testes, and female gulls nesting together.” Sensing something lurking beneath the surface, Colborn created an electrical spreadsheet sorting the information by species and health effect and found that most symptoms could be traced to a dysfunction of the endocrine system—the network of glands that produces hormones and govern growth, development, metabolism and reproduction. Colborn discovered that adult animals exposed to chemical toxins were fine; the main health problems were found in their offspring. Colborn wrote, “Unlike typical toxins, these seemed to be acting as hand-me-down poisons.” Colborn’s findings suggested the possibility that wildlife and people were being exposed to a new kind of risk from widely used chemicals—this changed the assumption that the dose makes the poison—insofar as the poison wasn’t solely in the dose; it could also be in the timing of exposure. In July 1991 at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, a group of members from a range of disciplines dubbed these trends “endocrine disruption,” which included three important findings often overlooked by traditional toxicological research: the effects could be transgenerational; they depend on the timing of the exposure; and they might come apparent only as the offspring developed. A discussion of endocrine-disrupting suspect bisphenol A will make clear the ambiguous effects of these compounds on the human body.

BPA is the primary component of polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic that’s used in baby bottles, compact discs, eyeglass lenses, and water bottles; BPA is also a basic ingredient of epoxy resins used to line canned foods and drinks. Unfortunately, the bonds holding these long molecules together can be weakened fairly easily, allowing BPA to migrate out of the polymer daisy chain. Scientists have known since the 1930s that BPA acts as a weak estrogen, binding with estrogen receptors on cells and blocking natural stronger estrogens from communicating with cells. By now hundreds of studies have suggested BPA does just that in animals and humans, reporting the compound causes health effects in cells and animals that are similar to diseases becoming more common in people, such as: breast cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as hyper activity. BPA research has been highly controversial because the alleged effects seen at very low doses don’t show up at higher doses; yet, it makes sense if you view the chemical as hormone rather than poison in which toxic effects increase with the amount of exposure.

Unlike most suspected endocrine disruptors like BPA that mimic estrogen, DEHP—the chemical found in PVC IV bags and tubing, not to mention a host of other vinyl items like shower curtains—is an antiandrogen, meaning it interferes with testosterone and other masculinizing hormones of both men and women. As observed in rat studies, once the chemical enters the body, it travels to the pituitary where it stops the production of a hormone that directs the testicles to make testosterone. It is believed that when this occurs during sensitive periods of development, testosterone levels can plummet and growth and development may be influenced. Epidemiologists have charted rising rates of male infertility, testicular cancer, and decreased testosterone levels and diminished sperm quality in many western countries, though the connection to DEHP is unknown. Such findings led an expert panel convened by the National Toxicology Program in 2006 to conclude that there were “grounds for concern that DEHP exposure can affect the reproductive development of baby boys under the age of one.”

While DEHP is thought to affect cells in the testes that secrete testosterone, such findings have not been observed in recent primary studies involving young marmosets, our closest relatives. Moreover, epidemiological findings on sperm quality have been inconsistent: some studies show correlations with phthalate levels, some don’t. These contradictions in DEHP/phthalate studies have led the American Chemistry Council to make the following critiques thereof: the sample size is too small; rats are poor models of human health hazards; the dose administered in animal studies are much higher than those experienced in humans; the demonstrative health qualities are not necessarily adverse. The continuing uncertainties are one reason why expert panels that have looked at these compound all come to the same conclusion: more and better studies are needed.

A few of the chemicals used in plastics—the phthalates found in IV bags, triclosan, an antibacterial found in kitchenware and toys, and the brominated fire retardants widely used in furniture—have already caught the attention of researchers and regulators. However, we have no coherent body of law for managing the chemicals we experience in daily life, which makes the regulation of suspected endocrine disruptors difficult. The EPA recently announced it would take steps to limit use of phthalates, including DEHP. The FDA, on the other hand, judges that the chemical offers more benefit than risk and therefore has ignored calls to limit its use in medical devices; its only action to date has been a 2002 advisory recommending that hospitals not use devices containing DEHP in women pregnant with boys, in young male infants, and in young teenage boys. This inconsistent approach to chemicals management is part and parcel of The Toxic Substance and Control Act (1976), which presents the following Catch-22: The EPA needs evidence of harm or exposure before they can require a chemical manufacturer to provide more information about a chemical, but without that information, how do they establish evidence of harm? In the absence of evidence, regulators cannot act. In Europe, law makers abide by the precautionary principle in which “the burden of proof is on safety rather than danger.” This allowed the EU to prohibit the use of DEHP in children’s toys in 1999, nine years before the US Congress pass similar legislation. A new directive known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals), adopted in 2007, requires testing of both newly introduced chemicals and those already in use, with the responsibility on manufacturers to demonstrate that they can be used safely.

SO, what do you think? Confusing, eh?

Day 25: Nov. 20th, 2009

March 9, 2010

Goooooood day! I finally finished my report on Extended Producer Responsibility/Product Stewardship. Look out for it at under the sustainability tab!

Let us resume our clamshell recycling initiative narrative:

The next day I arrived to the office feeling much better having received Robert’s insightful email. I felt as though my journey of discovering an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging was slowly making progress. I had established that if our RPET packages are “read” like PET bottles via the MRF’s optical sorting technology, we could integrate our RPET packages into this recycling infrastructure. I also learned that we could develop a new market for mixed rigid plastic packaging post-consumer (that is, non-bottle grade plastic material), as is often the case in CA. I wonder which would be more cumbersome…Ha!

To my surprise, I received an email from the Environmental Director at Starbucks, responding to the email I sent yesterday.


Thanks for the email.

I am traveling in Los Angeles this afternoon and won’t return until Friday evening. I will be in the office next week, so please feel free to give me a call at your convenience. The best time to catch me is between 7:30 and 8:00 on weekdays, before meetings start up.


GROOOOOVVVVVVYYYYYYY. It looks like I may get my interview after all! My father, who is also coincidently the owner of Dordan, told me “not to hold my breath” about actually getting to speak with the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Not to be a jerk, but I love proving him wrong, at least for the better.

And another beneficial development: I had several responses to the discussion I started on about trying to recycling non-bottle PET thermoforms. The most insightful was from the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, who I discussed briefly in an earlier post.

Check it out:

The Plastic Recyclers Viewpoint…

Posted on behalf of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR):

Back when the world was younger and more uniform, there was one fairly simply defined PET resin used for 2 liter soft drink bottles. PET makes an excellent 2 liter soft drink bottle. Then more packagers wanted to use PET bottles for other products with other needs. The result today is that the PET used for bottles encompasses a range of molecular weights and potential additives.

Thermoformed packaging made from PET may use similar resin as is used for bottles or may use even lower molecular weight (lower IV) plastic. The technical needs for thermoformed packaging are not necessarily the same as for bottle packaging. There is an overlap in IV ranges used for bottles and for thermoformed sheet. Does the potential for IV difference preclude recycling the two forms together? No. End use markets dictate how significant are the differences for recycled plastics from different first uses. Are there additive conflicts? Unlikely, but not assuredly.

So why the reluctance to include thermoforms with PET bottles? There are at least two current reasons. First, the risk of serious contamination is great. A thermoform of non-PET can visually look like PET and be a huge problem. Think inclusion of PVC with the PET. This problem has been a showstopper in North America. In China, hand sorting can overcome the problem if the resin code is accurate. The second problem is a materials handling problem. Crushed thermoforms do not behave like crushed bottles. They do not “fly” the same in autosorting equipment and they do not bale the same. If bales are made too dense, the material does not process as efficiently as it should. Adjusting to the differences takes time and effort.

Does this mean PET thermoforms cannot be recycled? No. Thermoforms are recyclable, once we get through the growing pains of special needs and critical mass. Would sustainability be better served by switching all thermoforms to a different material? Probably not as non-PET, non-polyolefin resins are even more problematic in being accommodated in existing collection and sorting systems.

So why are multiple resins used? In some cases that decision is for aesthetic or performance reasons. Usually, economics dominate. And sometimes tradition keeps on happening. As has been the case for bottles, there does seem to be a gravitating by decision makers to a few resins. The challenge is to develop the infrastructure that allows for efficient handling and sorting to useful resin categories and then to develop markets for those categories.

This response was written by Dave Cornell, Technical Director for APR. For more info on the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, including published Design for Recyclability Guidelines,

Posted November 19, 2009

Radical! Design for Recyclability Guidelines, eh? Sounds right up my alley. Time to do some more research!

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!

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!


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!


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


Day 24: Nov. 18th, 2009

March 4, 2010

Another sunny day in Chicago! I just don’t know what to do with myself!

The next day I arrived to find an empty inbox. Ug! I had sent out a gizzillion emails and gone as far as I could go with my recycling initiative until I knew the status of our “test.” Four weeks all of a sudden felt like a life time…

I scrolled through my emails to see if there was anything I had forgotten to follow up on. And then it hit me: my phone-interview with the Environmental Director of Starbucks about the launch of his cup-recycling program. Below is the editorial about this initiative, which got me interested in talking with the Environmental Director responsible for its implementation:

NY Starbucks stores launch cup-recycling program

Posted by Anne Marie Mohan, Managing Editor,, September 10, 2009 |

Seven Starbucks stores in Manhattan have launched a cup-recycling program in cooperation with Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CORR). The pilot will test the collection and recycling of coffee cups when combined with old corrugated cardboard (OCC), which CORR says is the most extensively recycled material in the U.S. The objective of the program is to develop a cost-effective mechanism to close the loop on paper packaging, reducing greenhouse gases and assisting municipalities in reaching their solid waste diversion goals.

Starbucks participation in the pilot is an extension of the company’s efforts to develop a comprehensive recyclable cup solution by 2012. While Starbucks paper coffee cups can be recycled and composted in some communities, most commercial and residential services are not currently able to process this form of packaging. “In addition to the cup design, it’s critical that we address the full product life cycle—including the recycling collection infrastructure,” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks director of Environmental Impact. “Any enduring solution will require collaboration with stakeholders across the value chain.”

For the pilot, Western Michigan University’s Coating and Recycling Pilot plants tested a representative sample of the cups used in Starbucks stores and certified them as OCC-E, offering equivalent recyclability and repulpability as old corrugated cardboard using the Fibre Box Association’s Wax Alternative Protocol.

Paper bag manufacturer Duro Bag is designing a special paper bin liner so cups can be collected and recycled along with the corrugated cardboard. The prototype bag will be tested as part of the trial. Action Carting, the largest commercial carter in New York City, is collecting the bags along with the corrugated cardboard.

Pratt Industries will recycle a trial run of the bags and their contents, testing them for their recyclability and repulpability compared to existing feedstock at the company’s mill on Staten Island. Pratt’s Sustainable Design Incubator provided design guidance for the pilot, which is being coordinated and monitored by Global Green USA. Results of the pilot will be available in November.

According to CoRR, every year, 58 billion paper cups are used in the U.S. at restaurants, events, and homes. If all paper cups in the U.S. were recycled, 645,000 tons of waste would be diverted from landfills each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 million mtCO2e, equivalent to removing 450,000 passenger cars from the road.

Says CORR director Annie White, “The lessons learned from the cup recycling pilot can be applied to the recycling of hamburger, pizza, and French fry containers, and all sorts of other paper food packaging. If the initial pilot is successful, CORR will expand the pilot to encompass more packaging types and restaurants, furthering our objective of generating business value and closing the loop on packaging.”

According to James McDonald, director of Sustainability for International Paper, “As an active member of CORR, International Paper supplied cups to Western Michigan University for recyclability testing and subsequent approval to the OCC-E protocol. Our participation not only supports this important pilot, it also furthers International Paper’s goals of providing responsible sustainable packaging for our customers.”

The foodservice packaging recycling project is but one of several of Global Green USA’s CORR projects dedicated to generating business value through creating a sustainable, zero waste New York City. In March, CORR launched an initiative with the Hunts Point Distribution Center in New York City, the world’s largest food DC, to substitute all of its nonrecyclable transfer packaging with recyclable packaging.

To visit this article on

Robert Carlson with the CA EPA had suggested I contact the Environmental Director of Starbucks after I had introduced my recycling initiative that looks to find an end-of-life market for thermoformed packages post-consumer to him. I was honored when the Environmental Director agreed to talk with me in October. I had not yet been able to get my interview, even though I was just as determined.

I sent the Environmental Director of Starbucks the following “reminder” email:


Sorry to be a bother but I just wanted to reaffirm my interest in chatting with you about the status of the pilot recycling intiative for Starbucks coffee cups in several NY Starbucks’ stores. I am trying to find an end of life market for our RPET plastic packaging (clamshells, blisters, trays, etc. [non-food]) either within the existing PET bottle recycling infastrucitre or by creating a new end market for mixed rigid plastic packaging. It seems as though buyers of baled PET don’t want plastic packages in it for fear of PVC contamination or the introduction of other contaminates. I was curious how buyers of baled corrugate were handling the introduction of a new material (Starbucks coffee cups) because I feel as though it is a similar situation with persuading buyers of baled PET that RPET clamshells will not contaminate the feedstock.

Please let me know when I can catch you in the office.



Tune in tomorrow for Robert Carlson’s (with the CA EPA) response to the “what’s new with me” email. It is jam-packed with goodness!

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?


Chandler Slavin

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

Day 22: Nov. 16th, 2009

March 2, 2010

On November 16th I received the following email from my contact at Waste Management, confirming receipt of our RPET samples:


I received the samples to run through our optical sorting technology.  I will send them out for analysis and be back in touch in a few weeks.

Grooooovy. A few weeks…yikes! The suspense is already killing me!

While I contemplated waiting for “a few weeks” to continue moving forward with our recycling initiative, I sent Robert the following email, inquiring into his opinion about PVC, a thermoplastic that we form.

Hey Robert,

What is your stance on PVC? I know that that is a loaded question, but I run into contradictory information all the time. For instance, below is an article on Dr. Patrick Moore, a Co-founder of Greenpeace, who left the organization because it’s increasingly radical stance on chlorine in all its forms and derivatives. He says that PVC is a good material in specific applications and I can infer that the language on (“PVC is a poison throughout its entire lifecycle”) is extremely reductionistic.  What is your stance on greenpeace? Do you have any contacts there who may be able to provide insight into their harsh stance on PVC, and plastics in general. Moreover, a lot of their experts specialize in the protection of forests from the pulp and paper industries around the world; would they have information on the timber industry that may provide a counter-argument to language like “dino plastic” used by bloggers on

Gosh, I know you’re busy. Please take your time and respond at your earliest convenience. Perhaps we should establish a question quota per week? Ha!

See the article and link below for more info.



Greenpeace Co-founder Praises Benefits of Vinyl Products in New Video

Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, advises students and professionals to apply critical thinking when investigating the properties of materials, and praises the use of vinyl as a sustainable and safe material in a new video.

This story appears on

For a direct link to the article and video, go to:

After lunch that day I received this email from Robert:


I haven’t forgotten about you…I just had two major issues come at me over the last week or so and haven’t been able to do anything else. Ill try to get something to you next week sometime.

Rats…I then shot back the following email:


No worries my friend; I assumed you were busy. Well, shoot me an email when you get a second—I have so much to tell you!

And to my surprised, a half an hour later I received this from Robert:


I’m still a bit busy but know if I don’t get back to you now, I’ll likely forget forever!  Plus I want to know about the “so much to tell you!”

I know rather little about unfortunately so I can’t comment on the organization.

Regarding PVC, I’m no expert but I do know that it poses health risks at various points in its lifecycle particularly if it’s incinerated.  PVC also has a terrible habit of ruining bales of other material if it’s not caught in the sorting phase (I’ve heard as little as 0.1% PVC is enough to ruin a batch of PET.)  We do have a plastics expert here at the Board, his name is Edgar Rojas.  If you’d like to ask him about PVC you can send him an email at (contact wishes to remain anonymous).

PVC seems to be on the chopping block every legislative session with a bill to ban it every year it seems.  Obviously it’s never been passed, but there is always concern over the material, particularly in food-contact applications.  PVC and PS are the two plastics that come under fire most often for their toxicity and environmental/human health effects.  I don’t know what the results will be once all the science is gathered to find the true full lifecycle effects of these materials in various applications, but from what I see it doesn’t look particularly good. 

Ok…your turn…


Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America.

Day 21: Nov. 7th, 2009

March 1, 2010

After sending out several emails to contacts in different organizations (who wish to remain anonymous), I received the following information about non-bottle PET recycling. Hopefully you will find this information as valuable as I did in my journey to discover why PET clamshells, blisters, trays and components are not recycled in most American communities.

Quick answers:

  1. Including blister packs into PET bottle recyclate is unlikely to be good idea;
  2. Clear PET trays might be technically okay to be mixed in with PET bottles – but there is a sorting problem due to PVC;
  3. PET trays/clamshells/blister packs could be sorted out of the residual mixed plastics waste to make an rPET grade – although this may prove to be more restricted in markets than bottle recyclate.

PET types

Blister packs that aren’t PVC generally use a copolymer of PET called PET-G or PETG. This is softer and tougher than standard PET and can’t crystallize, so is used for some PET films and thin sheet applications because the manufacturing is easier (even though the material is a bit more expensive).  Some clamshells and trays use PET-G, but most will use standard PET identical to that used for bottles. All ovenable frozen food trays use crystallized PET as they need to stay rigid at high temperature – this is chemically identical to bottle grade, but most frozen food trays are pigmented anyway?

PET-G can be a problem in PET recycling. A little bit probably would never be noticed, but if significant sources of PET-G were going to be used as feedstock for any particular process, this would have to be fully tested in trials by the re-processor and the end-users – recyclate for use in bottles (made by injection stretch blow molding) might not be able to accept much PET-G without quality problems, but a recyclate intended for trays or clamshells (made by sheet extrusion and thermoforming) might be fine.

PVC Issue

Getting PET packages recycled also depends on the confidence and cost of being able to extract the PET from the commingled plastics without excessive PVC contamination, which degrades at PET processing temperatures (causes yellowing, black specks and may affect food-contact status)

Since clear PVC is widely used in these sort of packages as well as PET and the two are visually indistinguishable except by inspection of the plastics code (if present) then manual pre-sorting and final checking won’t be feasible based on container shape as it is for bottles. Therefore the automatic sorting would have to start from a very high contamination level– this increases the difficulty of getting to a low enough level of PVC content.

With PET bottle recycling, it is already a little difficult to keep PVC low enough, as PVC gets into the bottle stream anyway in the form of labels and cap liners – if you tried to include trays etc, then only a few PVC packs would need to sneak through the sort process to downgrade a batch.

Hence, recyclers are hesitant to include PET clamshells, trays etc with sorted PET bottles because they might end up with lower incomes despite the higher volumes.

All this means to me that it is more sensible to try to get PET clamshells and trays from the mixed plastics fraction (after already removing bottles) and finding a market for that quality of rPET, rather than trying to sort bottles and clamshells/trays together. This is the approach being tested by WRAP (Nextek are running a project for them).

Okay…so based on this insight, it is more feasible to create a new end-market for mixed rigid plastic material than to try and integrate our PET packages into the existing PET-bottle recycling infrastructure…

That’s all for today folks; I think we should all let this information sink in. Tune in tomorrow for more discoveries about recycling in America!