CRAZY!

Check out this article posted today on PlasticsNews.com.

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will remember that in preparation of speaking on progress being made in recycling PET thermoforms in Orlando for Pira International’s/Packaging World’s Sustainability in Packaging conference, I reached out to Coca Cola’s joint recycling venture, NURRC, to see if they minded providing information on their experiences with recycling PET thermoforms. And if I could back up even further—it was because a rep for NURRC approached me after I presented at Plastics News’ Sustainable Plastics Packaging conference in Atlanta on recycling thermoforms, explaining that his facility recycles curb-side collected PET thermoforms—that I wanted to use NURCC as a case study of progress being made in recycling PET thermoforms. In March 2nd’s post titled “New Insight into Recycling PET Thermoforms,” I discuss my dialogue with NURRC and how up until right before my presentation in Orlando, they were comfortable with me discussing their experience with recycling PET thermoforms, which included sensitive information like sorting technology used, end markets, etc. Perhaps the discussion reported in the PlasticsNews article above is part of the reason they became uncomfortable with me highlighting them as a case study into the progress of recycling thermoforms post consumer. YIKES! Hopefully these realities are just growing pains for this new closed-loop infrastructure that’s discovering how to navigate the world of recycling in the context of using post-consumer PET material for remanufacturing into second generation high-value PET products, like bottles and clamshells…

This week I will discuss feedback from the Walmart SVN/Expo. After which, we will pick up on summarizing Dr. Narayan’s presentation on the science of bio-based/biodegradable resins and conclude with the happenings of the SPC meeting in San Diego that I attended.

Happy Monday funday!

Hey yall!

Check it: Recycling for Thermoformers
RAD!

DA BEARSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

Dordan is still relishing in its team’s win from last night; you can just feel the excitement in the office, or at least, smell the beer evaporating from our skin. Ha!

Good afternoon my packaging and sustainability friends. I have some SUPER exciting news!

Two weeks ago I emailed my recycling report (download it here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling) to everyone and anyone I thought would benefit from the information. A colleague in the waste management industry responded thoughtfully (see September 20th’s post), as did some other stakeholders. While there feedback was very much appreciated, today I received the BEST feedback EVER!

Just moments ago I received a letter from someone who participates in the Walmart-Canada PET Subcommittee and represents an industry group explaining what progress has been made over the last 18 months in regard to recycling PET thermoforms! And let me tell you, progress has been made boy howdy! I am just tickled pink by these developments, which suggest that PET thermoforms can and WILL be recycled post consumer in North America in the not-too-distant future. Finally my dream of converting thermoforms collected via curbside into second generation thermoforms will be a reality and I will be able to say with pride that plastic packaging is recycled, not just “recyclable.” Hurray!

And, not to get all nostalgic and what not, but I don’t think I could have started this investigation at any better of a time: Had I started this clamshell recycling initiative years ago, the industry-momentum needed probably would not have existed, which I argue, is the result of the increased pressure on companies to integrate an end-of-life option into their packaging life cycle, among other contemporary developments. And, in only a year, not only have we uncovered the obstacles keeping thermoforms out of the recycling infrastructure, but we have begun to find a way to work toward their inclusion. Well done plastics industry!

 Now that I have dangled this fabulousness in front of you, I regret to inform you that I am unable to share this information until I receive the necessary approval. But don’t worry, as soon as I get the green light, you will be the first to know!

I am up to my ears in research but will get back to you tomorrow with all sorts of goodness.

Hello and happy Friday! Oh boy do I have a treat for you!

 As some of my more diligent followers know, I have not been blogging about my work on recycling thermoforms because of other marketing obligations. That being said, it just so happens that I got to kill two birds with one stone: I was given the task of writing my very own white paper on the state of recycling clamshells and blisters in America for our outgoing marketing piece for August! How cool is that! It took a lot of work, but to be honest, once I started, it sort of just flowed out of me. Perhaps researching issues around recycling thermoforms for almost a year allowed for the easy transmission of information. This report is probably the most technical piece I have ever written, aside from my senior thesis on our secular age, capitalism, and the Frankfurt school. If anyone is interested, let me know, only two people have ever read this masterpiece; my professor and myself! Ha!

 So yea, I am pretty proud of this report because it summarizes why thermoforms are not really recycled in America and what we as an industry can do to change it. While I intend on presenting this report to different publications for further exposure in addition to putting it on our website and using it for our marketing, I thought I would share it with you, my packaging and sustainability friends, first! There are some tweaks I still intend on making, and I would love any feedback you can surmise! Also, we still need to put the bells and whistles on it so it looks like a “real” white paper.

 Again, this recycling report is a compilation of my research on recycling with suggestions for our industry.

Check it out!!! Oh, and I apologize but all the footnotes can only be displayed as end notes…

 Recycling Report:

The truth about plastic clamshell and blister recycling in America

With suggestions for the industry

By Chandler Slavin, Sustainability Coordinator,

Dordan Manufacturing Company Inc.

 The axiom “reduce, reuse, recycle,” which for so long represented our industry’s ambiguous approach toward “being green,” has in recent years translated into a quantifiable reality. Such a reality, with the help of EPI[1] and the FTC, is now defined by specific terms and qualifications.[2] For instance, to claim that a package has been reduced, one must demonstrate the overall material reductions resulting from the redesign; to claim that a package is reusable, a system for the collection and reuse of said packaging must be presented with validating evidence; and, to claim that a package is recycled means, contrary to popular belief, that this package is in fact recycled in 60% or more of American communities. While everything conceptually is recyclable, only those types of package/material combinations[3] that are literally collected, reprocessed and remanufactured can be labeled “recycled and/or recyclable.”

With this qualification of terminology came the unraveling of several myths: not only are the high rates for paper recovery attributed primarily to newspapers and corrugagte,[4] those for plastic packaging are attributed mostly to PET beverage bottles and HDPE milk containers.[5] Why are certain material/packaging types recycled, while others are not?

The Economics of Recycling in America:

The answer, like most things, lie in economics: Those material/packaging types that are easy to collect post-consumer, transport, sort, clean, bale, and remanufacture enjoy the likelihood of being recycled because the cost of the resultant “recycled” material is competitive with the cost of virgin material production. For example, because PET bottles are made from high value resin and are “easy” to recycle, the remanufactured resin enjoys a value that allows it to compete with virgin, facilitating the continued recycling of PET bottles. This can also be explained via the chicken and egg analogy: There is no supply if there is no demand; there is no demand if there is no supply. What this means is that a package/material type will not be collected via curb side systems[6] if there is no buyer or end market for this recyclate.[7] Often times, buyers/end markets need high generation i.e. quantity and consistent supply of a package/material type to economically justify the reprocessing of it. After all, a material has to be competitive in the market—why would someone source a package from recycled resin if the cost of virgin is cheaper? This translates into the following relationship between supply and demand in the context of plastic recycling: for a material/packaging type to be recycled, the cost to collect, transport, sort, clean and remanufacture must be competitive with the price of virgin resin production. If the cost to recycle a material/packaging type is too high, which often is the result of ineffective collection/sorting processes,[8] the cost of the product/package for which said recyclate was intended would put the selling unit at a competitive disadvantage in the market. In a country with plentiful landfill space, often times the price to landfill a material/packaging type is much lower than the cost to recycle: this is due in part to the fact that in order to recycle a material, you must first establish a supply and demand equilibrium, develop various technology and make sizeable investment into infrastructure. So what does this all mean for the state of recycling non-bottle plastic packaging, like thermoformed clamshells, blisters trays and components in America?

The Economics of Collecting and Sorting Thermoforms:

Thermoformed packaging is the thin gauged, rigid plastic packaging that is applicable to most consumer product packaging for its visibility, performance and cost. Such thermoform packaging types include clamshells, blisters, trays and components, which can be made from a multitude of different resins, depending on the application of the package. While many thermoforms are made out of high-quality resins, the recycling of such packaging/material type(s) has yet to be implemented on a large scale in America because of the economics of collecting and sorting said thermoforms. Unlike bottles, which are easy to identify via manual and automatic sorting systems, thermoforms come in all shapes and sizes, which makes sorting them difficult, thereby driving up the cost of reprocessing this material/package type. While the SPI ID code on the bottom of most plastic packaging attempts to represent the resin from which the package is made, thereby informing its end of life management, the recent influx of new resins, bio-based resins, barrier-resins and others have made the SPI ID code outdated and confusing. A simple example will make clear the inefficiencies of the SPI ID system: packages made from PET are prescribed with the ID code “1;”however, packages displaying the “1” may also be comprised of PETG, in which the –G lowers the melting point of the PET polymer, disrupting the established reprocessing of PET recyclate.[9] Other examples include packages made from CPET and multi-layer PET containers,[10] which are prescribed with the ID code “1” and have the potential to ruin the PET recyclate for remanufacturing. We will expand on these issues below.

It is also important to note that another complication with sorting thermoforms visually, with or without reference to the SPI code, is time constraints: it is difficult for manual sorters at a MRF[11] to visual identify those thermoforms intended for recycling from those still with no end market when all types of materials are moving down the line quickly. Some MRFs use air blasts to divert PET bottles from other materials thereby reducing labor costs, which would be complicated with the introduction of thermoforms in the recycling stream. The more difficult and time-intensive the process is for the manual sorters to identify the “recyclable” materials from those destined for landfill, the higher the reprocessing costs; therefore, the more expensive the recyclate and the less competitive it will be with virgin material.

In addition, different MRFs have different sorting technologies depending on the materials they collect for recycling; because of the ease of manually/visually identifying PET bottles and HDPE milk containers from un-recyclable materials as well as the high cost of automatic sorting technology, these technologies may not be available at a majority of MRFs.[12] If the investment has not been made in optical sorters or more sophisticated sorting technologies, the MRFs ability to sort thermoforms by material type from those still with no end markets may be time-intensive, resulting in higher reprocessing costs. Therefore, a materials’ ability to be competitive after the cost of recycling depends, in large part, on the technologies employed by the MRFs; and, a MRF will not make an investment in said technology until they can guarantee the supply of and demand for the material the necessary to sustain the continued recycling thereof.

Supply/Demand Considerations:

As alluded to above, the likelihood of recycling a material/packaging type depends on its generation or supply. While very large quantities of PET bottles are manufactured each year,[13] there are not as many clamshells of a single resin manufactured, which makes the collection of an adequate supply of this material/package type difficult and therefore its recycling economically problematic. By understanding the different properties of the available resins, packaging engineers—unintentionally—bombard the waste stream with a multitude of different resins in the form of thermoforms, making it difficult to isolate any one resin in order to collect and reprocess. While food requires its packaging to demonstrate certain properties, like preservation and safety, other products, like consumer electronics, require completely different packaging properties, like impact strength and protection against pilferage. Because of the wide variety of different resins from which thermoform packages are manufactured, it is difficult to estimate whether any one resin is used in a sufficiently high proportion, and would therefore be the most “economical” to collect for recycling. In short: there has to be enough of a specific material/packaging type to economically justify the collection and recycling thereof; and, “enough” is defined by the buyer/end market and is difficult to quantify without conducting research on the generation of the different thermoform material types in the consumer waste stream.

According to the ACC, there has to be about 400 million lbs of a particular plastic for the recycling to be profitable.[14] Fortunately, as reported on plasticstoday.com, 1.4 billion lbs of PET thermoforms were produced in North America in 2008. This data suggests that the recycling of PET thermoforms can be an economically sustainable process; and, as more and more thermoforms transition from PVC to PET the amount of material in the waste stream available for recovery will continue to climb, thereby providing further support for the recycling of PET thermoforms in the context of material generation/supply.

Lastly, industry perspectives suggest that right now, the demand for PC[15] PET material in North America surpasses the supply, 3 to 1.[16]  While I do not know of the validity of this statement, I have witnessed an increase in the desire for recycled PET material for remanufacturing into packaging and products as encouraged by retailers and consumers alike. This interest in increasing the supply of PET recyclate may ultimately facilitate the inclusion of PET thermoforms in the PET recycling infrastructure, allowing the creation of a supply-and-demand equilibrium in the context of PET recycling.

It is important to note that most of our recyclable materials are exported to international markets for reprocessing. According to NAPCOR’s “2008 Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity,” 793.6 millions of pounds[17] of PC PET material was purchased by export markets while 615.5 MMlbs was purchased by U.S. reclaimers. U.S. reclaimers consequentially supplement their domestic purchases by importing 98 MMlbs of PC bottles from Canada, Mexico, and South and Central America. Most PC PET material generated in the U.S. is sold to export markets because export buyers will pay more per pound than domestic reclaimers. Therefore, in order to increase the available supply of PET recyclate in America in order to meet the growing demand, the amount of PC PET bales exported should be limited, domestic markets for the recyclate should be developed, and domestic reclaimers should be more aggressive.

“Specs” and Baling Considerations: 

“Specs” are the documented qualifications a buyer/end market outlines to the supplier of PC material upon procurement. As alluded to above, these specs often times depend entirely on the end use of the recyclate: If the buyer/end market is a bottler, the PC material has to meet one set of specs; if the material is intended for thermoformed packaging, it has to conform to another; and, if the material is used in non-packaging applications like industrial piping, imitation timber, etc., it has to demonstrate compliance with another set of specs. It is assumed that the highest valued recyclate(s) are those materials generated via closed loop systems; by remanufacturing bottles from bottles or thermoforms from thermoforms, the value of the PC material is not diminished after reprocessing. However, if bottles are recycled into polyester fiber applications, the value of the recyclate is diminished because it does not have to conform to as stringent specs during reprocessing, which often times results in a lesser-grade resin with a diminished market value when compared to its virgin form. In summary, the more stringent the specs, the higher value the recylate and the more likely the end market attempts to “close the loop” of the material/package type.

Specs for thermoform bales need to be created if we intend on the future inclusion of thermoforms in the recycling infrastructure. Without a buyer/end market and therefore specs, these material/packaging types will not be collected post consumer and sold for remanufacturing. When creating specs, one must consider the way in which the desired material “bales.” If a material/packaging type cannot be economically collected and baled, as in the case with expanded polystyrene[18], than it is difficult to justify the recycling of it because again, the economics don’t support the process. Concern in the industry has been voiced in regard to the way to bale thermoforms for reprocessing: due to their differing densities, geometries, and often times materials, it is difficult to come up with a uniform bale for market, especially when no specs for thermoform bales exist, to my knowledge. Therefore, investment must be made into the development of specs for recycling thermoforms, including specs for baling, which again, rest entirely on the end-market/buyer. We are back to the chicken and the egg insofar as no one will create specs for thermoform-only bales or PET thermoform/PET bottle bales if there is no buyer/end market and there will not be a buyer/end market if there are none of these materials available for market.

Contamination Considerations:

Like any procured packaging material, the value depends on its ability to conform to the specs of the buyer/end market. Those instances in which the recyclate does not meet specs is generally the result of contamination issues; contaminates are a recycler’s/reprocessor’s number one obstacle. Simple design changes to thermoformed packaging, modeled after those advocated by the APR’s Design for Recycling Guidelines for PET bottles,[19] could decrease the likelihood of contaminates in the thermoform recycling stream, resulting in lower reprocessing costs. However, this all depends on the approach one takes to recycling thermoforms. Based on research, it is evident that there are two popular approaches for recycling thermoforms. The first, like the Starbucks cup recycling pilot that integrated the fiber-based cups into the existing and efficient corrugate recycling stream, would be to integrate PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. By piggy backing on an already sophisticated recycling process, the PET thermoforms would only have to demonstrate to recyclers/reprocessors that they do not contaminate the PC PET material, which will again, depend on the specs of the buyer/end market. The second approach is to recycle all thermoforms together, resulting in a low-grade plastic mix suitable for application in a multitude of products. Another approach, which would require supply-chain collaboration and industry-led initiatives, would be for manufacturers of thermoforms to restrict the number of resins used and/or to make the thermoforms easy to identify by resin type to facilitate efficient sorting/recycling. Such actions could allow thermoforms to be recycled together (after being sorted by resin type) and still maintain high levels of quality. This approach, however, receives some criticism because it requires a new labeling/identification system for resins in addition to placing limits on what resins are available for thermoformed packaging.

According to Hurd in “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Plastic Recycling,” bales of a single resin, like PET, enjoys more PC value than mixed resin bales, described above as a low-grade plastic mix. Therefore, it appears as though the inclusion of PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure would yield the highest value PET recyclate available for application in a multitude of end markets. If this approach is taken, however, many “contamination” issues need to be addressed, which again, could be presented in a Thermoform Design for Recyclability document. However, these considerations apply if the end market of this mixed thermoform and bottle PET recyclate is for remanufacturing into RPET bottles, food-grade packaging, or other high end packaging applications that require exacting specs and contamination-free bales. If intended for use in down-cycled applications, like decking, such considerations would probably not be necessary; however, this is contingent on the specs of the buyer/end market, as previously discussed. Known contaminates to PET recycling are: PVC, PET “look-a-likes” like PETG, described above, colors, barrier resins, laminates, inks, adhesives, food, etc.

What we can do:

Where do we go from here? As illustrated above, the recycling of thermoforms depends on the ability to collect, transport, sort, clean, bale, and remanufacture material into new products in an economically competitive way. Issues such as adequate supply/generation, demand i.e. who is the buyer/what is the end market, investment in sorting and reprocessing technologies, etc. need to be address if we as an industry plan on the inclusion of thermoforms in our recycling infrastructure. Because recycling is a business, it is our responsibility to nourish it through supply chain collaboration and industry-led initiatives. The infrastructure is weak; we must collaborate if we intend to make it strong.

Below is information that I believe is needed to begin work on recycling thermoforms in America:

  • Determine how much non-bottle plastic packaging is generated in America by resin and packaging type.
  • Determine how much non-bottle plastic packaging is recycled in America and where it goes/what it becomes.
  • Determine if anyone is recycling thermoform-only bales and if so, what kind of sorting technologies are employed, what are the specs, and what is the end market of the recyclate?
  • Determine if anyone is recycling PET thermoforms with PET bottles and if so, what kind of sorting technologies are employed, what are the specs, and what is the end market of the recyclate?

Next is my understanding of the actions that are needed to begin work on recycling thermoforms:

  • Encourage producers to set minimum PC content in their packaging and retailers to insist upon it from their suppliers.
  • Work with MRFs to develop more efficient sorting systems for thermoforms and/or encourage industry collaboration for the development of an “easy” way for MRF’s to visually identify the different thermoform material types as they move down the line, facilitating efficient sorting and lower reprocessing costs.
  • Work with municipalities to generate investment in sophisticated sorting technologies.
  • Determine the technical feasibility of recycling PET thermoforms with PET bottles regardless of the various grades.
  • Develop Design for Recyclability Guidelines for Thermoforms, which would decrease the amount of contaminates in the thermoform recovery stream i.e. no PVC labels on PET thermoforms.
  • Develop local markets for PC resin, be it material extruders, converters, product producers, brand owners, retailers, etc.
  • Educate consumers and the industry about the importance of recycling plastic packaging.
  • Limit the amount of PC PET bales exported.
  • Encourage that the types of resins used in the manufacturing of thermoforms be limited in order to generate large quantities of different material types available for recovery post consumer.

Author’s note:

The information presented in this document is the result of a year of research, drawing on the work of APR, NAPCOR, SPC, among others. Proper documentation is provided. However, this is not meant to be an exhaustive study on the topic and does not represent the views of the industry as a whole.

About the author:

Chandler Slavin is the co-lead of the PET Subcommittee for Walmart-Canada’s Material Optimization Committee, which looks to increase the diversion rates for PET packaging post-consumer. She is the primary contact to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and oversees all of Dordan’s sustainability research and efforts. To learn about her day-by-day efforts to recycling thermoformed packaging, visit her blog at:  http://www.recyclablepackaging.org/.   


[1] EPI stands for Environmental Packaging International, which is an organization that specializes in extended producer responsibility/product stewardship requirements. For more information, visit http://www.enviro-pac.com/indexM.htm

[2] The FTC first issued its “Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” commonly called “Green Guides,” in 1992 in hopes of educating marketers how to make environmental marketing claims without being deceptive or manipulative. These Guides were revised in 1996 and 1998 and are currently under review. For more information, visit http://www.ftc.gov/opa/reporter/greengds.shtm.

[3] This terminology, “packaging/material combinations,” “types of packages/material combinations,” etc. mean that for a package to be recycled, one has to specify the packaging type i.e. thin neck bottle versus plastic tub, and the material type i.e. PET versus HDPE. It is the desired material and packaging type combination that provokes a packages’ ability to be recycled. The need to specify the specific packaging type i.e. bottle versus tub is because, often times, sorting is done manually and it is easier and therefore cheaper to visually sort similar looking packages than independently inspect every SPI resin ID code, which are confusing and in the process of being reviewed. 

[4] According to the EPA’s 2009 report titled “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States Detailed Tables and Figures for 2008,” “other paper packaging/other paperboard packaging” has no recovery data (listed as Neg.), which suggests that most fiber-based packaging is not recycled. The high recovery rates attributed to paper are therefore the result of newspaper (87.6% recovery) and corrugate (76.6% recovery) recycling. To download the report, visit http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf.

[5] 28% of HDPE milk containers were recycled in 2007 (U.S. EPA 2008); 27% of PET bottles were recycled in 2008 (NAPCOR, http://www.napcor.com/PET/pet_reports.html).

[6] Curb side systems are one type of collection method employed by municipalities in their waste management strategy. In curb side collection systems, consumers place those materials intended for recycling on the curb for pickup. There are many different types of collection methods, which are often informed by the economics of the waste management system. Other collection examples include drop-off recycling centers, buy-back centers, and returnable container legislation/bottle bills. Information from “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Plastic Recycling,” by David J. Hurd, Associate Director, BRONX 2000 ASSOCIATES, INC., 1809 Carter Avenue, Bronx, NY 10457 for WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY, TRADE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT’S CLEAN WASHINGTON CENTER, 2001 6th Avenue, Suite 2700, Seattle, WA 98121, CONTRACT # S97-220-028.

[7] End markets/buyers are not the only determinants for what package/material types are collected for recycling. Often times, municipalities enter into long-term contracts with haulers in order to lock in rates, which can sometimes lead to materials with high-end value not being included in the system because an old contract.

[8] The high cost to recycle some package/material combinations is also attributed to the following situations, in addition to inefficient collection and sortation: packaging design without thought to recycling, subsidized raw material costs, inexpensive foreign labor for virgin manufacturing vs. high domestic labor costs for collection, sortation etc., misc. technical barriers, and, the financial outlay for infrastructure creation.

[9] Hurd, “Best Practices…”

[10] An increasing number of PET containers are manufactured with multi-layer construction. Some of these containers are manufactured with a barrier resin known as ethyl vinyl alcohol (EVOH). The presence of EVOH is a problem for reclaimers as it effects the clarity of the finished product or can cause a change to the intrinsic viscosity (IV) of the recycled PET that renders it unacceptable for certain end-use applications. Like PETG, it is difficult to distinguish a multi-layer PET container from a single-layer PET container. Information from “Best Practices…”

[11] MRF stands for material recovery facility, which is where haulers bring those materials intended for recycling for sortation and baling for reprocessing.

[12] Automated sorting systems employ a detection, or combination of collection systems, to analyze one or more properties of the plastic passing through and automatically sorts these materials into several categories, either by resin type, color, or both. There are three different types of detection systems used in the sortation of plastic bottles: Optical sorting systems use visible light to separate plastic bottles by color. This is called near infrared (NIR); transmission technologies pass a signal directly through the bottle, which is read by a sensor on the other side of the bottle. Each plastic resin has a characteristic response to the signal based on its unique chemical composition. This is called X-ray transmission (XRT); and, surface scanning devices bounce signals off the surface of the bottle, which are reflected back to the sensor for identification. When a sensor detects what it is looking for, it will generally activate an air jet that will eject or direct the item it has positively identified. This is called X-ray fluorescence (XRF). Information from Hurd’s “Best Practices…”

[13] According to NAPCOR’s “2008 Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity,” the total number of pounds of PET bottles and jars available in the U.S. for recycling in 2008 was 5.366 billion. Download the report at: http://www.napcor.com/PET/pet_reports.html.

[14] Plasticstoday.com.

[15] PC stands for post-consumer.

[16] Perhaps an example will make clear that the demand for PC PET exceeds the available supply: According to a plasticstoday.com article, Coca-Cola’s plant bottle capped its PC content at 30% in North America, due to limited supply.

[17] Hereafter, MMlbs

[18] EPS is 98% air and 2% resin, which makes the collection/transport of the material costly. 

[19] Guidelines available for download at: http://www.plasticsrecycling.org/technical_resources/design_for_recyclability_guidelines/index.asp

Hello world!

So Canada is awesome. Toronto has the most amazing waste management system EVER. Check it:

You have to pay depending on the size of your garbage can; the bigger the can, the more you pay.

The result: tiny garbage cans and huge recycling bins.

Monetary incentive facilitating public action? I think so!

AND they have a bin for organic waste.

AND they provide bags for “electronic waste.”

So, unlike me, who, upon discovering a facility in the far South side of Chicago accepted electronic waste, drove around and around trying to locate said facility, local Torontonians simply place their e-waste in the wonderfully provided designated bag. What a life!

So yeah, it was really cool to see how waste is managed in Canada, which has some EPR legislation in place. I don’t know who is making money, if any, off the system (usually costs municipalities money to recycle), but something is definitely working right…

Here is what I learned; get excited!

It is in fact very possible to recycle PET thermoforms and bottles TOGETHER!!!!! So, all those who articulated reasons why the two packaging types were incompatible for remanufacturing together (i.e. different IVs, melting temps, molecular length, etc.) were misinformed! Hurray! And the clamshell recycling initiative rises from its grave!

This is positively wonderful news. If we can recycle PET thermoforms with PET bottles, than the value of the recyclate will remain higher than if PET thermoforms were recycled with other plastic materials, thereby constituting a low-grade plastic mix. From what I understand, bottle-grade PET is the highest grade, or enjoys the most inherent value. If PET thermoforms are made out of bottle-grade PET like ours are (supplier-certified 100% PCR PET), then they TOTALLY can be baled with PET bottles and sold together for remanufacturing into any of the following: new RPET bottles (more expensive reprocessing, need to clean resin for FDA-certified food compliance), new RPET thermoforms, any polyester-based fiber application, plastic strapping, and a TON of other products.

AND I spoke with a gentleman that runs a MRF and he concluded that they do collect and bale PET bottles and PET thermoforms together for market. AWSOME.

I wonder how much of these mixed PET bales are generated…?

I wonder what the specs of the mixed bales are…?

However, a working industry group recently conducted a pilot to test the integrity of these mixed bottle and thermoform bales and concluded that the adhesives used on labels on PET thermoforms compromised the recycled material. While I am a little hazy on the details, it was reported that the recycled material was unacceptable for market because of the adhesives, which are considered a “contaminant” to the overall integrity of the recyclate. Soooooooo I guess what this means is that:

  1. PET bottles and clamshells can be recycled together; yippee!
  2. Packaging suppliers need to begin to design thermoform PET packaging “for recycling.” While the APR has guidelines for designing bottles for recycling, no guidelines exist for designing thermoforms for recycling. Such guidelines could suggest things like:
    1. The adhesive used for binding labels and other marketing information to PET thermoforms needs to be X or can’t be Y or something to that effect.

I am looking forward to learning more about the results of this pilot; it is just so cool that people are interested in this, too. And here I thought I was all alone…

After speaking with another gentleman who knew a thing or two about a thing or two, I understand the current climate of recycling in North America to be as follows:

There is a HUGE demand for PET recyclate from bottlers, brand owners, and CPGs; however, there is not enough SUPPLY due to limited collection. This supply and demand disproportion can be solved, perhaps, by implementing the following actions:

  • Implement bottle deposit programs/legislation—this would provide consumers with an economic incentive to recycle their PET bottles.
  • Incorporate PET thermoform packages into the PET bottle recycling infrastructure. I like this oneJ.
  • Limit the amount of PET bales that are exported each year.

The ACC estimates that 400 million pounds of a particular plastic needs to be generated in order for the recycling of it to be profitable. According to Plasticstoday.com, 1.4 billion lbs of PET thermoforms were generated in North America in 2008. This implies that PET thermoform bales could constitute a recycling steam all on their own, without piggy-backing on PET bottles. However, perhaps it’s easier to integrate them into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure than create a new stream of PCR PET, thermoform grade? Now I just don’t know…

Tomorrow is my birthday and this Saturday is my sister’s wedding! Therefore, I will be unbloggable until early next week. But stay tuned, there is a ton of interesting stuff I need to report to you!

Happy Friday! This Saturday is my sister’s bachelorette party at Cuvee in Chicago, which is a super posh champagne lounge. I will let you know if I see any celebrities!

So I FINALLY finished my work on PET recycling for a Canadian retailer, which is good, as I leave on Tuesday!

Check it out! It’s sort of a lot, and it’s really detailed, so sorry if I bore you! Oh, and it’s broken into a couple different sections:

  1. Summary of a super huge document titled, “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Recycling.”
  2. Supply and demand of PET bottles post consumer, North American context.
  3. Supply and demand of PET thermoforms post consumer, North American context.
  4. Interview with StewardEdge and Stewardship Ontario’s Plastics Market Developer.
  5. Case studies of PET recycling, bottle to bottle, bottle to thermo, and thermo to bottle.

Seriously, this is the post of all posts! And when I copied and pasted my report into the Blog software, it messed up my outline–sorry!

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Summary of “Best Practices and Industry Standards in PET Plastic Recycling”

  1. PET recycling, history, American context:
    1. St. Jude, 1976—recycled PET bottles into plastic strapping and paint brush bristles.
    2. St. Jude, 1997—first to repelletize PCR PET plastic, which is important for PET remanufacturing companies.
    3. Wellman, Inc., 1978— began recycling PET bottles into a fiber product that was suitable for both carpet and fiber applications.

                                                               i.      Wellman continued to increase its use of recycled PET and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s increased their processing capacity and consequentially the market demand for post-consumer PET.

                                                             ii.      1993—first textile fiber manufactured from 100% RPET.

  1. Today, St. Jude and Wellman are joined by a dozen other companies, whose combined PET recycling processing capacity produces over ½ billion pounds of recycled PET resin annually.
  2. With advances in PET recycling technology, it is now possible to ‘close the loop’ by recycling bottles back into bottles, even in some food-contact packaging.

                                                               i.      There are three generic types of food-contact packaging applications/processes for which the use of PCR PET has been issued letters of non-objection (from the FDA, certifying applicability for direct-food content).

  1. Depolymerization processes that chemically break down PET plastic into its component chemicals, which are then repolymerized and made into new PET food contact packages;
  2. Multi-layer or laminated food-contact containers where PCR PET is combined with a virgin PET layer;
  3. And, full-contact food packaging containers where 100% PCR PET is used.
  4. Food-contact packaging applications are one of the largest uses of PET plastic resin in the United States. The ability to recycle these food-contact packages back into new PET food-contact packages will help ensure the long-term viability of PET plastic recycling and the ability to avoid the use of virgin PET in food contact packaging manufacturing.
  5. How PET bottles get recycled, American context
    1. Collection:

                                                               i.      Returnable Container Legislation or Bottle Bills, which establish redemption value on non-alcoholic beverage containers. These containers, when returned by the consumer for the redemption value, facilitate recycling by aggregating large quantities of recyclable materials at beverage retailers and wholesalers to be collected by recyclers, while providing the consumer with an economic incentive to return the PET bottles and containers. Currently, 10 States have enacted some form of this legislation.

                                                             ii.      Curb-side collection: Generally the most convenient for community residents to participate in and yield high recovery rates as a result.

  1. Communities that provide curb-side recycling generally request residents to separate the designated recyclables from their household garbage and place them into special recepticles, which are then set at curb for collection by municipal or municipal-contracted crews.
  2. Some communities allow their residents to comingle recyclables, that is, mix recyclable materials of different kinds into the same receptacle.
  3. Others require some level of material segregation, known as “source separation.”
  4. Some curbside recycling collection programs use compaction vehicles to collect designated recyclables. While this will yield greater amounts of material on a collection route than collecting materials loose and placing them in non-compaction vehicles, there is a greater possibility of introducing contaminants to the PET recycling process.

                                                            iii.      Drop-off recycling: Containers for designated recyclable materials are placed at central collections locations throughout the community, such as parking lots, churches, schools, etc. Residents are requested to deliver their recyclables to the drop-off location, where recyclables are separated my material type into their respective collection containers. Drop-off centers require much less investment to establish he curbside program, yet do not offer the convenience of curbside collection.

                                                           iv.      Buy-back centers: Most buy-back centers are operated by private companies; however, communities provide incentives through legislation or grants and loan programs that can assist in the establishment of buy-back centers for their residents. Buy-back centers pay consumers for recyclable materials that are brought to them. Most have purchasing specifications that require consumers to source separate recyclable material brought for sale. These specs reduce contamination and allow the buy-back center to immediately begin processing the recyclables they purchase, while providing consumers with an economic incentive to comply with the specs.

  1. How PET bottles are sorted and prepared for sale:

                                                               i.      After collection, each subsequent step in the recycling process adds value to the PC PET and puts it into marketable form for other processors and end users that will use them to manufacture new products.

                                                             ii.      The amount and type of sorting and processing required will depend upon purchaser specifications and the extent to which consumers separate recyclable materials of different types and remove contaminates.

                                                            iii.      Collected PET bottles are delivered to a MRF or a plastic intermediate processing facility (IPC) to begin the recycling process. The value of the PC PET and its ability to be economically manufactured into new products is dependent on the QUALITY of the material as it passes through the recycling process.

                                                           iv.      MRFS accept commingled curbside collected recyclables and separate them into their respective material categories. PET bottles are separated from other recyclables and baled for sale to IPC, plastic recycling facilities, or reclaimers. There are two types of sorting systems used at plastics recycling facilities:

  1. Manual sorting systems= rely on plant personnel who visibly identify and physically sort plastic bottles traveling over a conveyor belt system.
    1. Studies indicate that trained inspectors are capable of sorting 500 to 600 pounds of PET per hour and are more than 80% effective at identifying and removing PVC from the line.
    2. The use of ultraviolet light helps manual sorting systems remove PVC (yellow or green when exposed to UV) from PET (blue when exposed to UV).
    3. Manual sorting systems are generally one of two types—positive or negative sort systems.

                                                                                                                                                                                      i.      Positive= PET bottles are removed from a stream of plastic containers being carried over a conveyor system.

  1. When PET bottles are removed in a positive sort, there are either fed directly into a granulator or onto a second conveyor system that feeds into a granulator.
  2. Positive sort systems are considered best in generating highest quality materials.
  3. However, they may not always result in the most efficient system as positive sorts are generally more time consuming than negative sorts.

                                                                                                                                                                                  ii.      Negative= PET bottles are left on the conveyor system and unwanted materials are removed from the conveyor line.

  1. Negative sort systems work well if materials have been “presorted” into specific categories.
  2. The choice between positive and negative sort systems will depend on program budget and the supply characteristics of the incoming material.
  3. Automated sorting systems= employ a detection, or combination of collection systems, that analyze one or more properties of the plastic bottles passing through and automatically sorts these plastic into several categories, either by resin type, color, or both.
    1. Auto-sort systems are increasingly used at the intermediate processing level and even more extensively by reclaimers and end-users to obtain contaminant free streams of PET bottles for subsequent processing.
    2. Most auto-sort technologies employ some type of detection signal that can differentiate plastic bottles based on chemical or physical characteristics when that signal is detected and analyzed by a sensor.
    3. There are three different types of detection systems:

                                                                                                                                                                                     i.      Optical sorting systems= use visible light to separate plastic bottles by color. This is called near infrared (NIR).

  1. NIR detection signals pass completely through the scanned plastic bottle and can detect bottles that are shielded by other bottles when passing over the sensor.
  2. An advantage to NIR is their ability to detect multi-layer and composite container structures. Some of these pose contamination problems in the PET recycling process and are difficult to identify.
  3. NIR signals can scatter inside flattened bottles, which prevents the signal from being read by the sensor, causing the container to be ejected.

                                                                                                                                                                                    ii.      Transmission technologies= a signal passes directly through the bottle and is read by a sensor on the other side of the bottle; each plastic resin has a characteristic response to the signal based on its unique chemical composition. This is called X-ray transmission (XRT).

  1. Ignores labels and other surface contaminants that can lead to false readings with other detection systems.
  2. Also can read the chemical content of bottles when stuck together when bales are packed too densely.
  3. Drawback= flattened bottles can scatter the detection beam, which prevents the sensor from getting a reading on the other side.

                                                                                                                                                                                iii.      Surface scanning devices= the signals bounce off the surface of the bottle and are reflected back to the sensor for identification; each plastic resin has its own response. When a sensor detects what it is looking for, it will generally activate an air jet that will eject or direct the item it has positively identified. This is called X-ray fluorescence (XRF).

  1. Limitation= all surface scanning technologies will not detect a PVC bottle that is shielded from the signal by another bottle; therefore, it will not detect a PVC bottle that is stick to a PET bottle as it passes over the sensor.
  2. Also, surface scanning signals might be affected by surface contaminates like labels and caps and make cause PET bottles to be incorrectly ejected.
  3. The current state-of-the-art in auto-sort technology combines several types of sensors to provide multiple sorting functions for streams of commingled plastic resin types.

                                                             v.      PET bottles are sorted from other plastic containers at PRFs and, in most cases, further processed by color and sorting and granulating PET for shipment to reclaimers as “dirty” regrind.

  1. Dirty regrind from PRFs is then sent to reclaimers that process PC PET plastic into a form that can be used by converters.
  2. Converters process the recycled PET into a commodity-grade form that can be used by end-users to manufacture new products.
  3. At a reclaiming facility, the dirty flake passes through a series of sorting and cleaning stages to separate PET from other materials that may be contained on the bottle or from other contaminants that may be present.
    1. First, regrind material is passed through an “air classifier,” which removes materials lighter than PET such as plastic or paper labels and “fines” –very small PET particle fragments that are produced during granulating.
    2. The flakes are then washed with a special detergent in a “scrubber.” This step removes food residue that might remain on the inside surface of the PET bottles, glue that is used to adhere labels to the PET bottles, and any dirt.
    3. Next, the flakes pass through what is known as a “float/sink” classifier. During this process, PET flakes, which are heavier than water, sink in the classifier, while base cups made from HDPE and caps and rings made from PP, both of which are lighter than water, float to the top.
    4. The ability of the float/sink stage to yield pure PET flake is dependent upon the absence of any other plastic that might also be heavier than water and sink with PET.
    5. After they are dried, the PET flakes pass through what is known as an electrostatic separator, which produces a magnetic field to separate PET flake from any aluminum that may be present.
    6. Some reclaimers use x-ray separation devices for PVC removal, or optical sorting devices to remove other contaminants.
    7. The purity level to which PET flakes are processed depends on the end-use application for which they are intended.
    8. Once these processing steps have been completed, the PET plastic is now in a form known as “clean flake.” In some cases, reclaimers will further process the clean flake in a “repelletizing stage,” which turns the flake to pellet.

                                                           vi.      Clean flake/pellets are sold to the remanufacturer.

  1. Contamination issues, overview:
    1. Contamination reduces the value of recyclable PET by hindering processing and causing unproductive downtime and clean up expenses for PET processors, reclaimers and end-users.
    2. PET bottles can get confused with food and liquid containers that are made from other plastic resins that post major contamination problems for the PET recycling process.
    3. Some PET bottles are manufactured with barrier resins, closures, labels, safety seals, or contain product residues that can introduce incompatible materials than contaminate PET recycling process.
    4. Many materials that pose contamination problems for PET recycling are contained on the PET bottle itself. Therefore, there are a number of design elements that can be implemented that significantly increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of the PET recycling process. These design for recycling efforts have been aimed at reducing the impact of such materials as labels, the adhesives used to affix them and the inks used to print them.

IV.  PVC contamination:

  1. The primary contaminate to the PET recycling process is PVC; it can form acids when mixed with PET during processing. These acids break down the physical and chemical structure of PET, causing it to turn yellow and brittle. This will render the material inacceptable for many high-value end use applications. There are four primary sources of PVC contaminates that can enter the PET recycling process:

                                                               i.      PVC look-alikes= PVC bottles that resemble PET bottles.

                                                             ii.      PVC safety seals that are used on certain containers, like mouthwash.

                                                            iii.      PVC liners found inside some caps and closures.

                                                           iv.      PVC labels that are affixed to some PET containers.

  1. The sensitivity of PET to PVC contamination is based on the ultimate end-use application for which the recycled PET is intended, but in general the tolerance for PVC contamination is extremely low. The negative impacts of PVC contamination can occur with concentrations as low as 50 parts per million.
  2. Other resins:
    1. The presence of resins other than PET may also post problems with processing and remanufacturing PET.
    2. The presence of closures may introduce plastics other than PVC that may contaminate the PET recycling process or add separation costs. In addition, some closures are made from aluminum, which can pose problems for some PET reclaimers and end-users or increase cleaning costs.
    3. There are also a growing number of PET containers and other PET packaging materials which are marked with the SPI # 1 resin ID code that pose a number of problems to PET reclaimers. In some cases these containers are manufactured with modified PET plastic resins or in laminated forms that contain barrier resins that are either incompatible with the recycling of “bottle grade” PET plastic resin, or are difficult to distinguish from acceptable materials with current sorting technology.
    4. These modified PET resins may have physical or chemical properties that make them incompatible with ‘bottle grade’ PET resin during the recycling process. However, very few of these modified PET resins are used to manufacture bottles with screw-neck tops. This is why many recycling programs that collect PET plastic will only requires PET bottles with screw-necks.

                                                               i.      PET Microwave trays= these are manufactured from crystallized PET, known as CPET, and are incompatible with bottle grade PET resin and must be excluded.

                                                             ii.      PET drinking glasses, “Clamshells” and “Blister packs”= drinking glasses are manufactured from APET and not compatible with PET bottle recycling stream; PET clamshells and PET blister packs, while TECHNICALLY COMPATIBLE with the recycling of bottle-grade PET, run into “look-alike” issues with other clamshells and blisters that are not made from PET.

                                                            iii.      PET laundry scoops= while technically it is possible to recycle PETE scoops with PET bottles if they are clear or transparent green, it is best to exclude them as many laundry scoops are opaque and may introduce contaminates due to pigmentation.

                                                           iv.      PERG= many custom PET bottles are now manufactured from PETG. PETG containers are manufactured differently than other PET containers and are generally known s extrusion-blown containers. PETG has a much lower melting point than bottle grade PET resin and can cause a number of technical and operating problems to PET reclaimers.

                                                             v.      Multi layer PET containers= an increasing number of PET containers are manufactured with multi-layer construction. Some of these containers are manufactured with a barrier resin known as ethyl vinyl alcohol (EVOH). The presence of EVOH is a problem for reclaimers as it effects the clarity of the finished product or can cause a change to the intrinsic viscosity (IV) of the recycled PET that renders it unacceptable for certain end-use applications. Like PETG, it is difficult to distinguish a multi-layer PET container from a single-layer PET container.

                                                           vi.      Colored PET= PET reclaimers and end users are generally only interested in clear and transparent green containers, as they have the best end-use applicability.

                                                          vii.      Labels= Some PET containers, including coffee containers, liquor bottles and mustard jars, may contain metalized labels that pose problems for some reclaimers.

VI.  Misc. considerations:

  1. Bale specifications= the lack of standardization and the resulting variability of the quality and content of baled post-consumer PET bottles adds economic costs to and limits the efficiency of the PET recycling process.
  2. Granulating= properly designed and maintained PET granulating systems will optimize quality, production efficiency and throughput, and general workplace safety.
  3. Dirty regrind specs: the quality requirements for PET regrind are far more demanding than for baled PET. And, the allowable levels of contamination in PET regrind are in the parts per million range. The quality of PET regrind is crucial to the efficiency and economics of subsequent PET recycling processing stages. Producing dirty regrind that meets the specific specifications will ensure the ability to market granulated PET.
  4. Baled PET= Properly stored bales help maintain the quality of prepared PC PET plastics prior to sale.
  5. PET regrind (dirty flake)= Properly stored boxes of PET regrind help maintain the quality of prepared PC PET regrind prior to sale and further processing and limit the economic losses associated with improper storage.
  6. Shipping/Truck loading, Receiving and Weight Determination= Properly loaded trucks of PET bales and boxes of PET regrind can ensure regulatory compliance with maximum legal shipping weights, lessen the possibility of contamination, and prevent costly material losses and clean-up expenses due to improper loading. Proper paperwork and weight verification for shipments can help reduce disputes over material quality or quantity.
  7. Generic end-use categories for recycled PET:
    1. Packaging applications, such as new bottles;

                                                               i.      This is one of the highest value end-uses for recycled PET

  1. Sheet and film applications, including thermoforming applications;
  2. Strapping;
  3. Engineered resins application (such as reinforced components for automobiles);
  4. And, fiber applications (such as carpets, fabrics, and fiberfill).
  5. Examples include:

                                                               i.      Belts, blankets, boat hulls, business cards, caps, car parts, carpets, egg cartons, furniture, insulation, landfill liners, overhead transparencies, paint brush bristles, pillows, polyester fabric for upholstery and clothes, recycling bins, sails, strapping, stuffing for winter jackets/sleeping bags/quilts, tennis ball cans, twine, etc.

  1. How to increase the recycling of PET bottles:
    1. Consumer educationàincreases quantity and quality of recyclable material; reduces contaminates included with recyclables.

                                                               i.      Only PET bottles with screw-neck tops should be placed out for collection or brought to a collection location. PET bottles can be identified by looking for the #1 resin ID on the bottle of PET bottles. Any non-bottle PET items, like thermoforms, should be excluded. These materials introduce contaminants or create technical or economic problems in the PET recycling process.

                                                             ii.      Only PET containers that are clear or transparent green should be included for recycling.

                                                            iii.      Consumers should remove lids, caps, and other closures from PET bottles placed out for recycling.

                                                           iv.      All PET bottles that are set out for recycling should be completely free of contents and rinsed clean.

                                                             v.      Consumer should flatten PET bottles prior to setting them out. This decreases collection costs.

                                                           vi.      Consumers should never place any material other than the original contents into PET bottles intended for recycling i.e. chemicals.

  1. Encourage consumers to purchase products made with recycled content; this will ensure the long-term demand and economic infrastructure for the recovery of post consumer PET.
  2. Encourage retailers to increase the amount of recycled content in their private label packaging.
  3. Encourage product producers to increase the amount of recycled content in their products.
  4. Encourage produce producers to source packaging with a percentage of PC content.
  5. Designate ALL PET bottles with screw-neck caps are acceptable for recycling.

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Supply and demand of PET bottles, North American context

  1. Supply:
    1. Although recyclers say finding bales of PCR material is easier than before, the QUALITY is way down (plasticstoday.com).

                                                               i.      Coca-Cola’s plant bottle capped its PCR PET content at 30% in North America, due to limited supply (plasticstoday.com).

                                                             ii.      Working to counter that is Leon Farahnik (see case studies).

  1.  
    1. 30,699 tones of PET bottles were generated in Canada from 1999 to 2000.
    2. 42% of PET bottles generated were recovered post-consumer.
  2. Demand:
    1. There is a high demand for PCR PET bottles in North America: “There is a phenomenal pent-up demand for PC PET recyclate…the problem now is getting it” (NAPCOR). 
    2. There are over 250 buyers of PET bottle bales in North America.
    3. Brand owners and product producers demand PCR PET for packaging and products.

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Supply and demand of PET thermoforms, North American context

  1. Supply:
    1. According to the ACC, about 325 million lbs of non-bottle plastic packaging was recycled in 2007, with 2/3rds being exported. The ACC estimates that there has to be about 400 million lbs of a particular plastic for the recycling of it to be profitable. APR estimates that in the U.S., grocery stores generate about 135,000 tonnes/year of rigid plastics packaging (plasticstoday.com).
    2. In the U.S., there is a tremendous interest in increasing the available supply of PCR from thermoformed PET packaging (plasticstoday.com).
    3. 1.4 billion lbs of PET thermoforms produced in North America in 2008 (plasticstoday.com).
    4. By 2011, thermoform PET recycling could be ½ the size of the PET bottle market as growth in PET thermoforms is estimated at 15% per year.

                                                               i.      This is because the substitution of PET with PVC in many thermoforming applications.  

  1. Confusion exists around the generation of PET thermoforms because ambiguous categories i.e. “other rigids” vs. “custom PET.” See “Plastic Waste Management Strategy for Ontario” handout from MOC meeting, #1.
  1. Demand:
    1. Demand for recyclate from PET bottles is “going through the roof,” which means many recyclers are hesitant to start recycling non-bottle PCR PET, for which there is no defined customer base.
    2. Retailers and product producers demand PCR plastic for use in products and packaging.
  2. Market drivers:
    1. Public policy
    2. Corporate initiatives i.e. retailer mandates a certain % of PCR content in plastic packaging.
    3. China

                                                               i.      Will China virgin continue to undercut the U.S.?

                                                             ii.      Will Chinese exporters rely on U.S. bottle scrap? 

  1. The cost of energy

                                                               i.      If the cost of fuel rises, there may be more interest in recovering PET thermoforms from the waste stream.

  1. Obstacles:
    1. Look-alike plastics like oriented polystyrene, polylactic acid and PVC containers that are difficult to sort from thermoformed PET packaging, either manually or in auto-sorting operations.
    2.  Adhesives used on pressure-sensitive paper labels are different from those used on PET bottles and could cause yellowing.
    3. Some direct printing.
    4. Different additives than in PET bottles.
    5.  Flake geometry concerns.
    6.  Wide variability in intrinsic viscosity. PET bottles= 0.64-0.80 vs. PET thermoforms= 0.70 -0.75 (according to our supplier of RPET).
    7. Different shapes and sizes of PET thermoforms make it difficult to bale and they don’t “fly” like bottles do during the sortation/ejection process.
    8. There are no specs for PET thermoform bales. The only specs that exist are for mixed material balesà this is usually a low grade plastic mix that is remanufactured into timber-applications or playgrounds.
    9. Multi-later material PET thermoforms i.e. APET barrier, RPET base, etc.
    10. Low generation and recovery because non-homogenous and no defined end-market.

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Interview with StewardEdge and Stewardship Ontario’s Director of Plastics Development

  • In 1/3 and soon to be 3/3 provinces in Canada, EPR legislation exists, which requires industry to fund the recovery of their packaging post-consumer; this DRIVES recycling in Canada.
  • Stewardship Ontario (hereafter, S.O.) is like the Fost Plus system of Belgium for Canada—it takes money from industry to cover the costs of reprocessing packaging waste post-consumer.  It has a monopoly on this right now insofar as it is the only company that works as the middle man between industry and municipalities; it collects materials via blue box system, sorts, cleans and grinds at MRFs, and is sold to domestic and international markets.
  • S.O. doesn’t really care how materials get recycled i.e. bottles to bottles vs. bottles to carpet; they care that materials are recycled.
  • PET thermoforms are collected and sold as follows:
    • PET and other rigid thermoforms are not targeted by municipalities in Canada.
    • Some municipalities collect rigids with bottles, which are baled together, and sold to China—this means that there is a market for mixed bottle and thermo bales.
    • However, things are being done on “numerous fronts” and we should see some results in a year in regard to developing new end markets for non-bottle rigids.
  • PET bottles are collected and sold as follows:
    • Collected via Blue Box system; enjoy high recovery rates.
    • There is a demand for PET bottles but not enough supply.
  • According to Guy, “there is an oversupply of recycling capacity for PET.
  • To increase the recovery of all plastic materials, S.O. is open to the following sortation systems:
    • Sort each resin manual or via optical sorter;
    • Blend the different resins together for a low-grade plastic mix;
    • Taylor the different resins via pyrolysis or other WTE technologies;
    • Upgrade the resins via chemical manipulation.
  • Problems with recovery thermoforms:
    • Lack of quantity;
    • Economic issues (price of virgin vs. price of recycled PET);
    • Sorting/technology barriers;
    • Lack of investment;
    • Lack of defined supply and demand.
  • Companies with an investment in packaging materials have invested 3 million dollars in S.O. to develop new markets for plastic scrap

Chandler Slavin, Dordan Mfg.

Case Studies

  1. Par-Pak LTD (Brampton, Canada): 
    1. In 2011, Par-Pak is importing $2.5 million worth of equipment from Europe that will palletize and decontaminate both bottle and thermoform PET for reuse in food-grade containers.
    2. Sorting tests have been conducted at Toronto’s Dufferin recycling plant and in the Region of Waterloo and the thermoform bales have been shipped to the U.S. for processing south of the border (Thermoforming Quarterly).
    3. “Our ultimate goal is to have our containers go into a blue box, collected, sorted and ground and us buy it and make more containers out of it.”
  2. Global Plastics/Global PET (California):
    1. Washes, grinds, extrudes, and thermoforms PET into clamshell packages using nothing but post-consumer recycled PET.
    2. “Bottle Box:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRPYccEXt-8.
    3. Received a grant of nearly 7 million from the state of California.
    4. Established a 10-year partnership with Plastic Recycling Corp. for 60 million lbs of post-consumer PET bottles.
  3. Company X:
    1. Buy PET bottle and thermoform bales and extrude into second generation PCR PET clamshells.
    2. Questions:

                                                               i.      What are the specs of the bales of thermoforms Company X is buying from the MRF? Are they only PET thermoforms or are they mixed material thermoform bales?

                                                             ii.      If only PET thermoforms, is there enough QUANTITY of these types of packages available for the recovery of PET thermoforms to be economically sustainable?

                                                            iii.      How do they collect ONLY PET thermoforms without collecting “look a likes” like PVC, which will completely compromise the integrity of the PET bale, or PETG, which has a lower melting temperature and therefore adds inconsistencies to the recovery process?

                                                           iv.      Are you planning on integrating the PET thermoform scrap with the PET bottle scrap and extruding together? If so, how will you handle the different IVs between sheet grade PET and bottle grade PET?

                                                             v.      If mixed material thermoform bales i.e. PET, PETG, PP, etc., how are the different resins sorted for recovery? Are they blended together to create a low-grade, mixed resin flake for down-cycling applications? If so, who is buying this low-grade, mixed resin flake?

                                                           vi.      What kind of sorting technology is utilized to be able to generate a clean, quality stream of PET thermoforms for Company X to grind, clean, and extrude for direct food-contact packaging?

                                                          vii.      How are you competing with Asia for PCR PET?

  1. Ice River Springs (Toronto)
    1. Bottle-bottle recycling a.k.a. “closed loop.”
    2.  “Our goal is to eliminate our dependency on foreign virgin PET resin by self-manufacturing recycled resin from baled post-consumer plastic purchased from MRFs” (Packworld, April 2010).
    3. “AMUT S.p.A.”= technology that sorts, cleans, and flakes PC PET.
    4. “Starlinger”= technology implemented for the purification of the clean RPET material; it has a Solid State Poly-condensation technology that effectively purifies PET flake and keeps the energy consumption and cost to a minimum. The Starlinger system concerts flake to PET pellets, which are then used for the next generation of bottles.
    5. Ontario recyclers will no longer need to sell baled PET to Asiaàpurchase of baled PET will provide a stable demand for baled PET bottles in Canada.
  2. HPC, Leon Farahnik:
    1. Intends to build a 100 million lbs per year PET recycling plant in California because most PC PET is exported to China; Faraknik believes he can compete with Asia for PET bales.
    2. UNM International (Hong Kong) = purchased 140 million lbs of PCR plastics in 2009 from North America and the Middle East.
    3. Chinese recyclers can not find enough QUALITY recyclate.
    4. Problem= high demand for PET recyclate; how to get it?
  3. Haycore (Canada):
    1. Accepts some non-bottle plastic material post-consumer.
  4. Clear Path (North Carolina):
    1. A new facility that may have the ability to take RPET clamshell materials the other way (toward bottles, or at least polyester), but we wont know until the plant is live next year.

Ok, so I think I have dragged out the inevitable long enough. And resume recycling narrative:

Ring…Ring…

“Good Morning Dordan this is Sarah how can I help you? One moment please…”

Beep. “Chandler, Waste Management on Line 1…”

“Thanks.”

Suddenly I realized that this was the call I had been waiting on for almost 7 weeks: the results of our RPET clamshell samples’ test via the MRFs optical sorter. If our supplier-certified 70% post-consumer regrind PET clamshell packages are “read” like PET bottles via the recovery facility’s optical sorter, then perhaps we could integrate our clamshells into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. If anything, the results would tell us if one of the many obstacles facing the inclusion of PET/RPET clamshells into the PET bottle recovery stream is NOT the inability to sort these two packaging types together.

I reach for the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey Chandler!”

“Hey, nice to hear from you; how’s it going?”

“Great, thanks. I have the results from the MRF regarding your samples.”

“Ok, what are they; did they pass with the bottles?”

“Yes, there was no difference between the PET bottles and RPET samples as read by our optical sorter. So if RPET clams and PET bottles were moving down the line together, there would be no luminescent difference between the bottles and clams as they moved through our plastic sorting station. Again, the main point of the optical sorter is to see the difference between PVC and PET bottles, which look dramatically different when viewed via the optical sorter.”

“This is wonderful news!”

“Well, keep in mind that regardless of this, buyers of baled PET bottles DO NOT want clams in the mix.”

“And this is because fear of contamination, different IVs and perhaps melting points, no specs for mixed bales and on and on…?”

“Pretty much hit the nail on the head.”

“Well, I really appreciate you and WM going out of your way to help us figure this stuff out. We just want to recycle our packages—didn’t know how complicated it is!”

“Well we wish you the best of luck with your recycling initiative. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you…”

“Truly, thanks again.”

“No problem; take care.”

“You too!”

I hung up the phone.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm…what does this mean, I asked myself?

I think it means that the molecular structures of clamshell RPET and bottle PET are the same, at least was read via the optical sorter.

So how will this help us recycle our RPET thermoforms?

It illustrates that the reason RPET clams are not recycled with bottles has nothing to do with an inability to sort the two packaging types together. So if our RPET clams and PET bottles are read the same, they could be collected and baled, with no need for different sorting technology.

Good to establish, Chandler.

Suddenly I snapped out of my internal discussion; my two colleagues were waiting tentatively outside my cubicle, eager for the results.

“They passed!” I said.

“Sweet!” they replied in unison.

“So what does this mean for us?”

“Haha, I’m not quite sure yet…”

Tune in Monday for a summary of the different obstacles hindering the inclusion of RPET clams in the PET bottle recovery stream. Once established we will move on to discuss how the following determine the recyclability of a material/packaging type: supply, demand, and technology.

Have a splendid weekend! Its Friday, woop woop!

It’s GO TIME

May 10, 2010

 Happy Monday Funday! This post is to inform all of my packaging and sustainability friends that tomorrow is GO TIME! I have totally gotten my ducks in a row and can resume my clamshell recycling initiative narrative first thing in the morning. Get excited because I will finally release the results of our RPET samples’ test via the optical sorter (are they “read” like bottle-grade PET) AND bring you up to speed about why the results of this test are, unfortunately, another bread crumb, and not the end-all-be-all that I had hoped for at the onset of our recycling initiative.

WOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Day 31: Dec. 8th, 2009

March 25, 2010

Good day!

It’s official—I am going to Ontario next week to participant in a Committee that looks to find a way to recycle thermoforms! I am totally tickled pink by this news; I will keep you all posted!

And guess what: this is sort of funny, well not funny, but something to note…Some of my research on paper versus plastic in the context of sustainability was distributed to the members of the Committee as pre-reading material and a member voiced concern that this research favored plastic over paper; therefore, my research was removed from the list of pre-reading material because this Committee looks to be unbiased, and my research was very pro-plastic. You can read this research at http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_the_facts.shtml.

Is it super duper pro plastic? I think not…

While I do admit that it does make an argument for plastic over paper, all of the information is referenced and from publicly available records via the EPA and other environmental agencies. Moreover, I believe that the best way to understand a concept/situation/problem/topic is to understand ALL the different arguments; therefore, I would love to see a pro-paper argument, a pro-plastic argument, and any other argument that would inform discussion on packaging and sustainability. Perhaps I am still clinging on to the classroom etiquette where every argument is valid if supported with facts, regardless of if it is biased. I was always taught that it was my role as an academic to identify people’s objectives/biases in order to fully understand the argument (we live in a post modern world where one’s social location informs their perceptive). As a plastics girl, I obviously have a goal to make people understand that plastic IS NOT BAD; it just gets a bad rap in the eyes of the public because of lack of education and poor marketing. Therefore, my research on plastic and paper was more of an “in the defense of plastic” piece as everyone, even my college buddies, think plastic is bad and paper is good because plastic comes from oil and paper from trees.

On that note, check out this blog post from the Nashville Wraps Blog; it is all about recycled paper and it’s often times ethically-compromised point of origin: http://www.nashvillewrapscommunity.com/blog/?p=1275.

This is a great blog, by the by. Check it out!

Okay, shall we resume our recycling narrative?

Where were we…?

On  December 8th I arrived to the office feeling a little unmotivated; I still had not received the results from our RPET samples’ “test” via the MRF’s optical sorting technology and my Superior told me to shelf the recycling initiative for a bit because it wasn’t an economic priority for Dordan. So, while I waited for the results and my enthusiasm to return, I focused on other sustainability concerns. One of which is the life cycle impacts of recycled PET. After all, my clamshell recycling initiative is all about RPET and increasing its feedstock via the incorporation of RPET clams into the PET-bottle recycling infrastructure…love me my RPET. At the same time, however, I couldn’t find any industry data about the energy required/GHG emitted during RPET production to validate that RPET was the route we wanted to go as a sustainable plastics company.

I shot my contact at an industry-working group the following email, hoping he could provide some insight:

Hello!

Hope your having a lovely in-between holiday time.

In regard to COMPASS, the environmental packaging assessment tool created by the SPC: I am trying to utilize the software to compare a corrugated package of similar dimensions with a plastic package. The plastic package is RPET with a certified minimum of 70% PCR but I am unable to input this into the software. I know you had explained that this is because there is no industry data about RPET available at this time; my question, however, is how can that be when RPET is the new “hot” material in the professional packaging world. How can you have data on PLA and not RPET? When will this material be available for selection within the softwar

Thanks for your time!

And his response came later that afternoon:

Hi Chandler,

PCR is a funny thing. The marketplace has run head first to incorporate recycled content, yet the industry associations have not released any of the LCI data for folks to use for comparative purposes. These LCI data do not come from entities like GreenBlue, but from companies that make the materials. NatureWorks released the data for PLA because it was in their interest to show their product to have a better environmental profile than other traditional polymers. But, the rPET folks have not released the requisite data. Makes you wonder if the profile for rPET is really as good as we assume. Neither USLCI nor ecoinvent have such data, so we are unable to model r-anything yet.

I was at the LCA conference in Boston and the noise was about new data points. ACC – the folks who have the plastics data, intend to release them, but no eta. Unfortunately, data are the limiting factor to environmental assessment and will probably be that way unless there is some kind of legislative push or some other incentive that could induce industry to release data.  Everyone (us and all other LCA practitioners) are waiting on LCI data. There aren’t even good proxy data that we can use in the meantime.

Hope that helps.

Later I found this article in Packaging Digest, which provides further insight into the RPET “situation:”

The need for data grows as PCR content becomes more common

Given the popular consumer perception that packaging is wasteful, there is an intensive effort to improve packaging performance and recoverability, with manufacturers evaluating material and design alternatives to differentiate their packages on-shelf. Recycled content appeals to consumers and directly responds to concerns of packaging waste. Brand owners are testing ways to incorporate post-consumer-recycled (PCR) content into packaging where virgin material had been the norm.

Packaging developed with recycled polymers has been particularly in demand. Increasing recycled content across the packaging spectrum is perceived to have enhanced environmental profiles over virgin-content counterparts. In many instances, this is true, particularly with plastics, but it’s often hard to quantify these environmental benefits due to a lack of data for recycled materials.

Life-cycle assessment (LCA) methods can help quantify the benefits and illuminate tradeoffs of virgin and recycled materials. Yet a methodology is only as accurate as the data collected. There are hundreds of industrial processes that contribute to the creation of a single package. The LCA methodology requires detailed data about all the processes that go into bringing a packaged product to market, not just the obvious ones.

Enterprising companies have made great strides in introducing packaging with a high percentage of PCR content, even for food contact applications that have stricter regulations. Many of these innovations can be attributed to leader companies that have set up unique relationships for material collection and conversion to produce a small set of products.

These companies have made significant investments and are paying higher prices to produce packaging with green attributes. However, to accurately communicate what the environmental benefits are, manufacturers need to be able to quantify the specifics of the environmental advantages of using PCR content in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, material usage, water consumption and other environmental metrics.

Using LCA methodology to compare a recycled plastic package with a virgin one will allow companies to credibly quantify a package’s environmental savings, as well as justify the investment in PCR materials. Yet one needs life-cycle inventory (LCI) data, or the inputs and outputs for the entire life cycle for both materials, to make these calculations. LCI data are essential not only for assessing packaging applications, but also for all sorts of product development that uses the same commodity materials. The requisite LCI data for some virgin materials are publicly available, though some are outdated or incomplete, and we have a reasonable understanding of the various human and environmental impacts associated with their production and use. Unfortunately, the same kind of detailed and current data for most recycled forms of the commodity materials used in packaging are not yet publicly available. Efforts are underway to ensure the data for recycled materials become publicly available. Until then, the lack of LCI data for many commodity materials is a serious impediment to measurable progress along sustainability goals.

This article is accessible at: http://www.packagingdigest.com/article/447099-The_need_for_data_grows_as_PCR_content_becomes_more_common.php?rssid=20535&q=minal+mistry.

Hmmm…time to speak with our material suppliers of RPET to see why they haven’t released any LCI data…looks like we are about to travel into “proprietary” waters again; great.

Tune in tomorrow to get the much anticipated results of our RPET samples’ “test!”

Day 30: Dec. 1st, 2009

March 24, 2010

Hello! Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I am now a new resident of the West Loop, Chicago. Moving yesterday was a total debacle: movers came early, I didn’t have enough boxes, I got lost on the way to my new place and ended up too far West for one’s own good, and then I got locked out of my new place and had to call a lock smith. Fun times…

Well I’m back and ready to talk about recycling in America!

Where were we?

Two days later I arrived to the office anticipating the results of our RPET samples’ “test” to determine if our RPET is “read” like bottle-grade PET. Here’s the thinking: If our RPET moves through the MRF’s optical sorting technology like PET bottles, then we would have some leverage to approach our suppliers of post consumer regrind PET with and suggest they accept bales of PET bottles with our RPET thermoforms in the mix. It’s worth a shot, right? I swear, as this recycling initiative moves forward it keeps changing. For those of you who are new to my blog or have not followed the narrative, these are some possible solutions to finding a way to recycle thermoformed packaging:

  1. Integrate our RPET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. This is large scale and regionally a-specific.
  2. Work with our supplier of PCR PET to create a pilot program that works as follows:
    1. We would work with WM to designate a bale for PET bottles AND RPET thermoforms (either just our packages, so we could certify the integrity of the resin feedstock, or all RPET thermoforms, which may get a little messy depending on which domestic/international markets said material is originating from);
    2. This bale would sit at WM collecting PET bottles and RPET thermoforms until full;
    3. This mixed bale of RPET thermoforms and PET bottles would be purchased by our material supplier who would clean, grind, and extrude the mixed bale to create sheets for us to thermoform;
    4. We would ensure that we would buy this mixed thermoform and bottle-grade RPET sheet, providing security for the material supplier to engage in this initiative;
    5. We would test this mixed sheet with our machines and see what the output is.
  3. Create a new end market for low-grade, mixed rigid plastic packaging, as is the case in some communities on the East and West coasts where all plastic, once the PET bottles and HDPE jugs are removed for recycling, are collected for reprocessing. Sometimes this reprocessing manifests itself in lumber applications and sometimes this low-grade plastic mix is sold to international markets for WTE or perhaps feedstock for resin production.

So yeah…don’t really know what the best approach is…any suggestions?

Now that we have recapped, let us return to December 1st, 2009.

Upon arrival to the office I shot my contact at WM the following email:

Good day!

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend.

I just wanted to drop you a quick email inquiring into the status of our samples’ analysis via optical sorting. At your earliest convenience, please let me know if you have received the status of said analysis.

Thanks again for your time; I owe you lunch!

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Later that day I received the following response:

Hi Chandler,

Thanks for the note, yes, it was a nice Holiday break. I will reach out to my contact and our Grayslake plant manager this week to see if there’s any update.  The big issue as I think you know is on the buyer’s end….even if WM can accept and sort your PET material, the buyer’s of PET typically only recover the bottle grades, any other plastic is typically discarded. 

TICK TOCK.

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!