Hello and happy first Friday of 2012!

Today’s post is going to pick up on a conversation I began following the PET Recycling and Extrusion Forum I attended in October; it revolves around the role machine technology plays in PET thermoform recycling.

October 21st post titled “Humbled by the Machine” discusses how there appears to be a disconnect between those designing packaging for recycling and those designing the machines capable of recycling said packaging. What this means is that while PET thermoforms are technically recyclable with PET bottles, little investment has made into how PET thermoform flake vs. PET bottle flake is reprocessed. In other words, while companies like S+S Sorting have insanely efficient machines for recycling PET bottle flake, I don’t know if the same can be said for PET thermoform flake. Check out the email I sent to the gentleman I met from S+S Sorting at the Forum inquiring into this assumption:

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?

And his response:

The presentation I did at the P.E.a.R. Forum in Chicago covered only the recycling of PET bottles because this is at the moment the market we see the biggest interest in.
Furthermore this is the industry which is the most relevant one for S+S Sorting Technology at the moment.

For sure the S+S sorters are able to sort other types of material (thermoforms, glass, metal scrap, E-scrap…)

What we have to consider especially for PET thermoform recycling is that the material is in general a bit lighter than the PET bottles.

This means that the throughput rates on the sorters will be lower…

In general the separation of PVC contaminants, metals, and off colors will work in the same way for thermoforms as for PET bottles.

What is important is that the thermoforms are well singulated and spread out on the conveyor belt of the sorter.

For this a proper working pre-treatment is absolutely necessary (bale opener, bale breaker, ballistic separator, overband magnet, maybe an eddy current system, vibratory feeder and then the sorter…)

In general the easiest way to explain this in more detail is a concrete project with figures like throughput rates, contamination levels, output quality…

Based on this information we can go into more details.

The reason I am picking up on this dialogue started in October now is because my friend at S+S informed me yesterday that they are conducting a pilot in which different types of PET flake, including thermoform, will be reprocessed on their existing lines to gain more knowledge about different type of flakes and impurities. My friend even said he would compile the information resulting from the pilot—specifically the technicalities of reprocessing PET bottle flake vs. PET thermoform flake—for my blog! What a guy!

Expect feedback in 1-2 weeks, yay! What do you think will happen?!?

Have a great weekend—it is like 60 degrees in Chicago today, crazy!

Helllllloooooo my long lost packaging and sustainability friends! Oh how I have missed you!

Last week’s trip was a success! We had a bunch of normal sales thingamajigs, and while on the east coast, I visited two of my favorite sustainable packaging companies: Ecovative Design and TerraCycle! Here is a pic of me and my friend in front of Ecovative:

As described in April 21st’s post, Ecovative “grows” EPS-like material out of agricultural waste, using mycelium as the “glue” that holds the substrates together. They make everything from packaging materials to insulation to consumer products, like candles and ducks! Here is Myco the duck, courtesy of Ecovative, ha!

Anyway, their facility is super cool and the options are endless with how this new material can be utilized in the market. Check out their website here.

Next we saw TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton, New Jersey. Here are two photos of the office space, mostly assembled from refurbished waste. Cool!

And as previously articulated, TerraCycle partners with brands to re/upcycle hard-to-recycle branded packaging, like Cliff Bar wrappers, Capri-Sun juice pouches, and so on. By setting up collection sites across America and the world—called brigades—TerraCycle is able to collect the quantity necessary to economically justify the reprocessing of it. While everything technically is recyclable, the costs of collection (curb side vs. drop off vs. deposits) and sortation (single stream vs. comingled vs. manual/automated sorting technologies) for multi-material packaging usually exceeds the cost of virgin material/packaging production; this results in the likelihood that said packaging is not being recycled in most American communities. When brands partner with TerraCycle, however, they fund the shipment of the hard-to-recycle post consumer collected packaging to a TerraCycle facility, where it stays until it is re/upcycled into new products/packaging/material. Part of the fee for partnering with TerraCycle also goes into R&D to better understand how to get the most value out of the collected “waste” and PR, so that the partnered brands receive the marketing collateral inherent in such a warm and fuzzy initiative.

Check out their website here.

We went to TerraCycle to see if there would be any application for our two companies to play together. As those who follow my blog know, I have been working on a clamshell recycling initiative for almost two years. While I have focused mostly on a very macroscopic, infastructural approach to recycling, that is, working within the existing tax-funded waste management hierarchy of specs, bales, sorting and so on, I thought I would also investigate a more privatized approach in hopes that the reality of recycling clamshell packaging would be more aggressively pursued. I will keep you posted!

That night I attended a fiesta at TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky’s house and being that it was “International Week” at Terracycle, which means all the international TerraCycle offices were in Trenton, I got to meet environmentally conscious people from all over the world! It was so cool!

And on the note of recycling, Dordan CEO Daniel Slavin was quoted in not one but TWO PlasticsNews articles! The first, “Recyclers See Hope in Third Recycling Stream,” discusses the potential of increasing the supply of post consumer resins available for remanufacture; the second, “Consolidation Ahead for PET Recyclers?” discusses the market realities of PET recycling.

Neato! We are making progress!

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends!!!

I have so much to tell you! Where to begin where to begin…

Well, let’s talk about recycling thermoforms, as that is my first love—after Italian beefs—of course.

Prior to my presentation at Sustainability in Packaging in Orlando last week, I wanted to make sure that all my information on the state of blister/clamshell recycling AND progress being made in recycling thermoforms was as accurate and up to date as possible. After all, I wrote the original Recycling Report over a year ago, so I assumed that some things had changed. I don’t know if I had told you guys this before but a colleague from the SPC sent me an email several weeks back with an attachment outlining specs for mixed PET bales, including thermoform containers. Check it out here:

Mixed PET specs, ISRI

I sent this gentleman a follow up email, inquiring into what was implied by these specs: ARE thermoforms and bottles collected for recycling, as indicated by these specs for mixed PET bales? If so, who is collecting them i.e. private entity vs. municipality? What is the sorting technology used to separate the PET thermoforms from other “look-a-likes?” Where is this sorting happening i.e. MRF vs. PRF? AND, where do these mixed PET bales go after collection i.e. what is the end market?

After not hearing back from said gentleman, I reached out to ISRI, which is the organization that published the specs. Several unsuccessful attempts later, I finally got a hold of the Marketing Manager, who explained he is no expert on specs. He was very nice, however, and asked that I rephrase my inquiry in an email and he will see to it that the necessary party gets back to me ASAP. So, I sent him this email:

Hey!

This is Chandler with Dordan. As per our conversation, I have spent a lot of time researching recycling plastic packaging, specifically thermoform packaging, like clamshells and blisters. I have become an industry educator, explaining why thermoform containers are not recycled in most American communities, due to economics, sorting technologies, etc., in hopes that in understanding the problems, the industry can begin developing solutions (they are).

At my last industry presentation, I explained that MRFs do not collect PET clamshells for recycling because there is no end market and there is no end market because there is none collected for reprocessing (with the exception of international consumption of mixed rigids due to low labor costs for manual separation) i.e. the chicken and the egg of supply and demand. While there is a very strong PET bottle recycling infrastructure, the same can’t be said for PET clamshells because lack of investment, technology, etc.

ANYWAY, one of my arguments explaining why thermoforms are not collected for recycling is because there are no specs for collection and baling. After making such a statement, a colleague emailed me the attached document (PET specs.), indicating that there ARE specs for PET thermoforms as per ISRI.

So these are my questions:

Is post consumer PET packaging (rigid containers, bottles, jars, tubs and trays) collected at MRF’s for recycling, as per the spec sheet attached?

If so, do you know what MRF is collecting these materials for recycling; who purchases the mixed bales; and, what the material becomes after reprocessing? I know that that is a loaded question—I am just trying to understand if these types of materials are in fact collected for recycling, and if so by whom, how, where, and what the end market is.

Check out my attached PowerPoint Recycling Report: the truth about blister/clamshell recycling in America for clarification on my goal– which is to educate packaging/sustainability professionals about the economics/realities of recycling packaging post consumer in America, with special attention at recycling PET clamshells (thermoforms).

Does this make any sense?!?

Wowza!

Any feedback you could provide would be well received.

Thanks!

Chandler

While in Orlando, I received an email from my ISRI contact explaining that he had forward my inquiry onto the necessary party who would get back to me ASAP. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a hold of this gentleman before my presentation, so I hinted at the possibility that specs for mixed thermoform and bottle bales exist, though I explained I was currently investigating the implication of this information.

Also, as articulated in a previous post, after my presentation in Atlanta several weeks back at Sustainable Plastics Packaging, a gentleman from NURRC approached me, explaining that his company recycles post consumer curb side collected PET thermoforms and bottles at their southeastern facility. After this proclamation, I received an invitation to tour the facility, to confirm with my own eyes that the recycling of PET thermoforms was very much a reality (EXCITING!!!). While I had to push back the trip due to other work commitments, I have every inkling to follow through with his suggestion to see the recycling of thermoforms in action. I wonder if they would let me take pictures or even FILM their recycling process…that would be soooo cool! But now I am getting a head of myself.

ANYWAY, I thought that NURRC would serve as a fabulous case study in regard to progress being made in recycling thermoforms, so several weeks before leaving for Orlando, I contacted my NURCC rep and asked if I could use his company as an example of closed-loop progress in recycling thermoforms. He was super thrilled at the opportunity—explaining he could even send pictures—but said he just needed to receive the company’s partners’ blessing, because this entity funded the installation of a lot of the sorting and reprocessing technology. A half an hour before my presentation was scheduled to begin, I still had not received the partners’ approval—my NURRC contact explained that this entity had a holiday the day before and it wasn’t a top priority so he would therefore be unable to grant permission for me to use NURRC as a case study of progress being made in recycling thermoforms. DANGIT. While I still had every intention of highlighting the progress being made in the infrastructural approach to recycling thermoforms i.e. NAPCOR’s Thermoform Division, I was totally bummed I couldn’t highlight another, more privatized approach.

Sitting pool side, I was racking my brain for a good way to finish the “progress in recycling thermoforms” section…without NURRC’s blessing (I had received information on sorting technology used and other possibly sensitive information), I was unsure how to end on a bang. What I finally decided on was to highlight Dordan’s commitment to transparency: I explained that while some people just don’t get why I would go around saying thermoforms are not really recycled—at least in 60% or more American communities—I thought it was my responsibility to be honest because nothing ever changes if you don’t challenge the status quo. And I really, really, want to see our packages recycled in the future—it is not some marketing ploy but a genuine commitment to do good business and good by the environment. And I have to say, I think my presentation overall was received SO much better this time around because I was myself, explaining where I and my company were coming from in regard to our journey to sustainability, and didn’t make any excuses. I am very happy with the reception of my presentation, as I had numerous people approach me afterwards complimenting me on my honesty and articulating support for Dordan going out on a limb to move the dialogue around sustainability forward.

At the networking reception that night, the president of AMUT approached me, explain that his company makes machinery for thermoforming, extruding, AND recycling. He highlighted the recent developments at Ice River Springs in Canada (they are the first bottle-to-bottle recycling and bottling facility in North America) and others who esteem that they have purchased the equipment necessary to recycle PET thermoforms and bottles together. This guy definitely knows his stuff! I can’t WAIT to talk to him further about the different types of recycling machinery available in the context of PET recycling and how the machinery AMUT offers works to alleviate the previously articulated technical barriers to recycling PET thermoforms. Pending his approval, I will upload his presentation to my blog, as it provides the most technically holistic treatment of the process of recycling thermoforms for reprocessing into second generation thermoforms. Perhaps I can finally start working on Dordan’s next marketing campaign: “Our packages are made out of our competitors’ packages!” I don’t think I came up with that, but it certainly has a ring to it!!!

I can’t believe how much I have rambled. I hope I haven’t been a bore! I am waiting to hear back from the Marketing Director of the conference to ensure there are no policies against me discussing the content of the conference in my blog. Stay tuned!!!!

Greetings world!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all for today folks!

See you soon!

Hey!!!

I am writing you from the comfort of my hotel room moments before I have to leave and catch my plane back to sweet home Chicago. BUT I wanted to upload my presentation for you, my packaging and sustainability friends, as I told you I would pending its successful delivery. The conference was jammed packed with all sorts of goodness, which I will obviously discuss on Monday when I return to the office. SO, enjoy!

Recycling Report Presentation

Playing catch up

November 22, 2010

Hello and happy Monday funday!

Boy howdy do we have lots to talk about!

Drum roll please….I FINALLY finished my presentation on my Recycling Report for Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 in Atlanta, December 8th and 9th! I had no idea how hard it would be to convert a 10 page report into a half an hour presentation while not boring the audience to death with all the technicalities that is recycling. It sort of reminded me of when I was invited to present my Senior Thesis to a class of freshmen at DePaul—not that the audience of this Conference is comparable to college freshmen—but insofar as there is way too much to explain in the confines of a half an hour. Before I could even begin talking about the state of recycling clamshells in America, I had to set up a foundation for understanding the economics of recycling in general, including the “process” of recycling from collection through reprocessing/remanufacturing. All I know is that I have over 80 slides, which means I have to go through almost 4 slides a minute. I talk fast, but that is super fast…

Here is the structure of my presentation:

Introduction: What is “recyclable,” why, and why we care
Part 1: Explain the economics of recycling packaging in America with reference to abstract concepts
Part 2: Contextualize said concepts by explaining them in tandem with the state of recycling thermoform packaging in America:
Section 1: Supply and Demand Considerations
Section 2: Sortation Considerations
Section 3 Specs and Baling Considerations
Section 4: Contamination Considerations
Part 3: Discuss where we should go from here to work towards recycling thermoforms.
Conclusion: Discuss what progress is being made in recycling thermoforms with reference to NAPCOR

While normally I would post my presentation to my blog for your viewing pleasure, I am going to wait until after my presentation because I think it gives the content a sense of drama! And, who doesn’t like creating drama via anticipation?

That which was also difficult to convey in my presentation was the “why” component: that is, why do we care about recycling in general, and recycling thermoforms in particular? After all, while I am interested in recycling because I am interested in just about anything (ahem, degree in Religious Ethics anyone?), the audience for this conference will be anyone from brand owners to material suppliers; each of which, has different motivations for attending the conference. Therefore, while creating the content for this presentation, I thought it was important to situate recycling within the larger picture i.e. what does this do for me as a packaging professional? Granted I think recycling in and of itself is the “right thing to do” because it conserves our natural resources and therefore should be discussed in an open forum, most “business people” are more concerned about the bottom line than saving the planet. SOOOO this is what I came up with:

We care about recycling packaging because…

• Introduction of Walmart Packaging Scorecard;
• Increase demand for sustainable packaging and products by CPGs/retailers/consumers;
• Increased awareness that a products’/packages’ end of life management is crucial to its “sustainability.”
• Increased demand for PC content in packaging and products by CPGs and retailers.
• Advances in Extended Producer Responsibility.
• And, an increased understanding that our Earth’s resources are finite.

Obviously for each point I expand; hence, the point of a “presentation.”

I then talk about the “green consumer” and reference various market research that shows that if deciding between competing brands/products, consumers are more likely to buy the “green” product than the product not touting any environmental benefit (assuming same price, performance and quality).

Then I move onto a quick discussion of why we care about recycling thermoforms specifically, quoting NAPCOR’s 2009 Report on Post Consumer PET Container Recycling:

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

By emphasizing NAPCOR’s opinion that additional PC PET supply is a critical issue facing the industry, I imply that only by adding PET thermoforms into the PET recycling stream, either within the PET bottle stream or a PET thermoform only stream, can said demand be met. In other words: recycling thermoforms will provide additional PC PET material for application in a multitude of end markets, be it bottles, thermoforms, or other.

Are you convinced that recycling is the way to go?!? Perhaps this will persuade you.

I plan to present my presentation to my Dordan colleagues sometime next week to get their feedback…my main concerns is that there is too much content and not enough time to get though it all…more details to come!

Shall we move on to a brief recap of Pack Expo, as I have yet to give you any feedback from this insanely huge event?

Pack Expo 2010 was a roaring success: Dordan had more direct traffic (people looking for Dordan as opposed to just wandering by) than any other year we exhibited past! Our booth looked super great and our Bio Resin Show N Tell and COMPASS tutorials generated a lot of interest among the Show attendees.

Our Bio Resins Show N Tell definitely got the most attention, as Show attendees explained how nice it was to have objective research accompany the latest alternative resins, which Dordan converted via thermoforming for seeing and feeling pleasure. I was happy to hear that like Dordan, the onslaught of environmental marketing claims in the context of bio based/biodegradable/compostable resins was confusing the heck out of packaging professionals, as every study you read contradicts the last study published. After the Show, Dordan was contacted by a ton of Show attendees, who all requested the information displayed alongside our Bio Resin Show N Tell. Due to Dordan’s ethic of corporate transparency, we were thrilled to share our research with the interested parties. Hopefully interest like this will move our industry in the right direction, away from confusing environmental claims and towards a more qualified understanding of packaging and sustainability.

AND, check out this special picture of me and my brother/Dordan Sales Manager Aric at CardPak’s Sustainability Dinner at the Adler Planetarium during Pack Expo:

Good times.

This is sort of random but one of my old college professors, with whom I still speak, was featured on NPR Friday. His interview was really cool, and while on the NPR site, I found a session within the “Environment” heading that dealt specifically with the plastic vs. paper debate.

Check it out here.

That which I found the most interesting, however, was around the 15 minute mark when Jane Bickerstaffe of INCPEN explains how packaging has become the scapegoat for the perceived problems with how humans relate to our natural environment. She explains…

We did some research looking at the average household energy use for everything:

81% of energy is consumed by the products and food we buy, central heating and hot water in homes, and private transport. Packaging, however, accounts for just 3% of our energy expenditures.

She concludes:

People need to get a sense of perceptive…they drive their SUVs to the grocery store and then stand there agonizing over whether to choose paper or plastic; it’s actually a tiny tiny impact.

Right on! Granted the way in which we produce and consume things can always become more “sustainable,” the bag and bottle bans make my head hurt because the concern is so misplaced when you are wearing Gucci shoes manufactured by children in Indonesia. Alright, now I am getting a little melodramatic, but you get the idea, right? And speaking of overseas manufacturing, I just bought this book. My next research project is on the ethics of sourcing product/packaging from China. Exciting!

And how ironic, Dordan CEO says the EXACT same thing in our recently published interview in PlasticsNews.

Hurray for PlasticsNews!

Alright, I got to go: I am on a deadline to research and write a white paper providing evidence that “seeing it sells it” i.e. market research demonstrating that consumers’ identification of the product via transparent packaging results in higher sales. While all the sustainability research in the context of paper vs. plastic I have complied is helpful (see this), Dordan Sales Force tell me again and again that regardless of the environmental profiles of the different packaging materials, packaging buyers want the packaging medium that will sell the product. Period. Time to sales savvy marketing piece to our bag of tricks! Wish me luck!

But I will leave you with this informative article about recycled plastic markets from Recycling Today. Enjoy!

Hey yall!

Check it: Recycling for Thermoformers
RAD!

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

Key findings:

There are three popular approaches to recycling thermoforms:

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

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

Basic recycling considerations:

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

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

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

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

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

Good afternoon world! What a gorgeous day it is in Chicago! I am writing from my favorite Starbucks in downtown Chicago; it has a 360 degree view of all the hustle and bustle of a normal work day in the busy financial district!

So yea, my plan didn’t necessary go according to plan: I contacted one of the organizations that is responsible, in part, for the progress being made in recycling thermoforms and asked if they could produce some kind of press release detailing the progress being made, and referencing the responsible parties. My intention was that in having the responsible parties generate a press release, they could control the content and distribution, thereby allowing them to educate the industry on the progress in recycling thermoforms, while being recognized as those who have been driving said progress. After all, I have had nothing to do with the progress being made in the last 18 months, and in no way wish to take credit there for it; I simply wanted to inform the industry that progress was in fact being made, in hopes of elevating the reputation of our industry.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the progress being made is at the point where the various organizations involved feel comfortable informing the industry for fear that the progress may somehow be halted. Whether or not that is the case, I have to respect their opinions as I respect the work they have done and in no way wish to be a deterrent to their continued work on this issue.

So, sorry guys…I guess all good things come to those who wait?

On a higher note, I have been invited to meet the gentleman speaking at an industry shin dig during Pack Expo, as he is a DePaul Fellow of the Business Ethics Institute. Because I am a DePaul alumni and received my bachelors degree in ethics, the event organizer thought I would like the opportunity to pick his brain, which I totally do!

Perhaps this will be a good time to look into furthering my education…muhahaha.

Have a jolly afternoon!

Good afternoon world! Thought I would catch you all before the late-afternoon slump, which is when I am accustomed to blogging. Second cup of Joe, here I come!

Today’s post takes a slight detour from the world of recycling: I wish to briefly discuss how one quantifies the environmental benefits of sourcing packaging material from recycled resin versus virgin; and, the associated environmental burdens of using inks, laminates and adhesives on fiber-based packaging.

First, the environmental benefits associated with making packaging out of recycled resin versus virgin is kinda a no brainer…one would assume that sourcing post-consumer material yields environmental benefits when compared with sourcing virgin. Luckily, the Franklin Associated recently determined that recycling plastic significantly reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. According to their work, the generation of cleaned recycled resin required 71 trillion Btu less than the amount of energy that would be required to produce the equivalent tonnage of virgin PET and HDPE resin (Killinger, ACC). In other words, the amount of energy saved by recycling PET and HDPE containers including bottles in 2008 was the equivalent to the annual energy use of 750,000 U.S. homes. The corresponding savings in greenhouse gas emissions was 2.1 million tons of C02 equivalents, an amount comparable to taking 360,000 cars off the road (Killinger, ACC). You can download the full report here:  Final Recycled Resin HDPE PET Life Cycle Inventory Report.

So this is great because it finally provides justification for moving into PET and RPET packaging as that is the most readily recycled and recyclable. However, how do we show how this data actually impacts the LCA of a package? In other words, if I wanted to measure the environmental benefits associated with sourcing my packaging from RPET as opposed to PET, how would I?

And enter COMPASS, which is the SPC’s packaging environmental life cycle modeling software, which allows you to compare the “footprint” of different packaging materials and types in the design phase. Now that Franklin has provided LCI data about RPET used in packaging, COMPASS should be able to integrate the data into its software, thereby allowing users to compare packaging made from recycled PET versus virgin.

Here’s the email I sent to the creator of COMPASS:

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well.

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components?

Thanks for your time.

Chandler

And his response:

Hi,

See below.

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well. Thanks doing well indeed. And you?

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell. As you may know, we do not add data until they are third party verified. There has been a lot of activity on the data front of late and the data verification is coordinated by the EPA, and rPET and rHDPE are among them. Once we get the go ahead, we will begin work to model the data for COMPASS. This is anticipated to start towards the end of Q3 2010.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components? The secondary materials you mention may indeed be of concern and they are on our radar, however, since GreenBlue does not collect primary LCI data, we cannot add information until they become available and are verified. There is a lot of talk in the industries about the need for such data, and the best way to convey the information. We may have spoken on this before, but coatings, inks, glues etc are generally used in a very small quantity relative to the primary materials, and the existing display mechanism may need to change to record the results for the secondary materials. Also, since LCA is not a very good mechanism for conveying toxicity, the entire secondary materials module may require some detailed thought prior to implementation. I do not have a timeline for these materials as yet since much of the work in preliminary talk stage only.

Groovy…

I then sent a similar inquiry to another contact who knows a thing or two about sustainable packaging metrics and modeling software:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing. I hope this email finds you well.

At the meeting, a participant asked if you intended on including any metrics for the inks, laminates and adhesives used in many fiber-based packaging materials. You replied that unless you had scientific evidence that illustrated that such a metric had an impact on the overall environmental profile of a given package, you did not intend on including said metrics in the Scorecard.

I found the following statement in the U.S. E.P.A.’s TRI (Toxics Release Inventory) report, 1996:

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

Download the report at: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf

That being said, what are your thoughts on the inclusion of some type of metric that would attempt to quantify the environmental burdens associated with the utilization of inks, laminates, and adhesives on packaging?

Thank you for your time.

Chandler Slavin

And her response:

We aren’t opposed to including but we need to have details on what to include and how much they impact the total Life Cycle of the package.  In studies that I have seen on packaging the impact by these materials to the total package LCA are small in comparison than other parts like production of raw materials and transportation.  Prior to us adding to the scorecard we would need the data proving they are a big portion of the LCA and publicly available LCI to add to the scorecard.

Thanks for reaching out sharing some of your questions and concerns.

Hmmmmmm…

I replied the following:

During the meeting, you and your team discussed the ambiguities surrounding the “sustainable material” metric and participants articulated the desire for a “material health/toxicity” metric, in addition to, or as a component of, the “sustainable material” metric. Have you and your team given any thought to the inclusion of such a metric that does not rely on an LCA-based approach, but another “mechanism for conveying toxicity?”

I look forward to your response; thanks again for your time!

And her response:

Yes, we are analyzing the GPP metrics through the Pilot process as discussed at the meeting. 

She then provided me with a link to their website and other pertinent information; what a doll!

The GPP is the Global Packaging Project and it is super awesome! It looks to provide global metrics for quantifying the environmental profile of a material, packaging type, conversion process, etc. Tons and tons of CPGs and retailers and manufactures and packaging converters are members of this organization. I believe they are currently in a pilot phase, which is attempting to collect LCI data from primary processes.

I reached out to a representative from the GPP and she was really nice. She told me about their work and provided me with access to said work—I feel like I hit a gold mine! Unlike the Scorecard, the GPP will cover a multitude of different metrics, toxicity being among them. SOOOO I guess I am definitely not the only one interested in this and eventually, we will have much more thorough tools to measure the environmental repercussions of our packaging purchasing decisions.

Consequently, it’s only a matter of time until the greenwashers get phased out. I feel like we are in the Wild Wild West of packaging and sustainability and that eventually, some governance will come to maintain order—hopefully the GPP.

AND GUESS WHAT: The GPP is having a conference in October in PARIS. That’s right, Paris, the most romantic city in the whole wide world. I would kill to be able to go; hopefully I can make a good enough case for my Superior to consider it…

The last email that I sent along this theme was to the wonderful Robert Carlson of CalRecycle.

I wrote,

Hello there!

Question: why is an LCA-based approach not appropriate for trying to quantify the environmental ramifications of secondary materials i.e. inks, laminates and adhesives? In addition, what “other mechanisms” exist for quantifying these ramifications? How do you foresee the inclusion of this information in environmental modeling tools going forward?

Do chemical manufactures have to report their releases to the US EPA? If so, where/how can I access this information?

AND, I was reading the back of one of our competitors’ packages and the following verbiage was displayed: “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” WHAT THE WHAT? What is this, where can I find out more?

Thanks buddy!

And his response:

Ok…let me try to take this piece by piece and see what I can help you with:

As far as the competitors’ package goes, there are LOTS of chemicals that require that warning, it’s all part of prop 65 (see the attached PDF for the complete list and their website http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html ).  There is very likely a Material Safety Data Sheet available for that product…you might check on their website.

As far as manufacturers reporting their emissions to US EPA…I’m not really sure but I don’t think they do generally.  There are very likely specific situations that are regulated and are required to report emissions to EPA…but I’m not familiar enough with them to tell you which ones are required to be reported on.

Now…on to the meat of your question…the inks, laminates and adhesives…  I’m not sure what you meant with the comment that LCA is not a good mechanism for conveying toxicity…  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that usually LCA don’t get into exposure…  If a product emits 1.2 grams of a toxic substance, that’s all that is reported…it doesn’t really get into whether it’s emitted close to people, if people have long contact time with it or short, if sensitive sub-populations are exposed or not, if the toxin is persistent or not, if workers are exposed or consumers, etc…  That may be what was meant…  It could be that a combination of an LCA (to determine the releases at various points in the process) and a toxicological assessment of some kind (to determine exposure and risk assessment) would be a better way to approach LCA for these kinds of materials.

 There are always data gaps…there always will be.  To some extent, you can’t measure what you don’t know…  BUT somebody has to collect that data!  Eventually!  So somebody is going to have to step up and foot the bill…the problem of course comes in the sense that nobody trusts industry and government is broke…

How’d I do?  Make any sense???

You did wonderful, Robert, thanks!

That’s all for now. Tune in tomorrow to learn more about packaging and sustainability and the feasibility of recycling PET thermoforms in North America.

Tootles!