…[please see yesterday’s post for context as today’s post picks up where that one left off]…Also invited to participate in the task force meeting was the President of Plastics Forming Enterprise LLC., who was heavily involved with the development of APR’s Design for Recyclability Guidelines for PET bottles in the early 1990s. To make a long story short, this guy knows a thing or two about plastics recycling. His company is marketed as “an independent full service testing and R&D company serving the plastics, packaging, recycling and consumer products industries worldwide with a range of services.” As such, he is very well versed in the technical barriers keeping certain packaging/materials from being recycled and how recycling markets are generated and sustained.

His presentation titled “Recycling of PET Labeled Thermoforms and Bottles,” was one of the more precious compilations of insights into the technicalities governing PET bottle vs. PET thermoform recycling I have stumbled upon: For those of you who follow my blog regularly, you will recognize that the approach to PET thermoform recycling (and therefore what is considered a contaminate) has always been ambiguous—do you recycle PET thermoforms WITH bottles or in a separate stream? According to this gentleman, the answer is to recycle PET thermoforms WITH PET bottles eventually; it is just a matter of time, investment, and trial and error until recyclers and buyers gain the confidence into the value of PET thermoform material to sustain the collection and reprocessing there of. Good news, right?!?

What follows are some take-aways from this presentation:

Pressure-sensitive labels are the majority of labels used on thermoformed containers sold at retail. They consist of adhesives, substrate (paper vs. plastic), inks, coating, and laminate.

The known obstacles to recycling thermoforms with label/adhesives include: Sorting/contamination removal, material variability, mechanical engineering issues, misc. technical issues.

The known obstacles to recycling thermoforms with labels include: Look-alike contaminates i.e. PVC thermoform looks like a PET thermoform, wide variability in IV, package shape, direct print, different adhesives, different additives, fluorescence, flake bulk density, paper labels.

There are physical differences between PET thermoforms and PET bottles. While bottles have high IV, high bulk density and a unanimous design and material i.e. thin screw-top PET bottle, thermoforms have low IV, low bulk density, and heterogeneous shapes and material constituents.

The labels on PET bottles are typically plastic; the labels on retail point of purchase thermoforms are predominantly paper and continuously be increasing to plastic.
o It is generally understood that the move away from paper labels is the current issue at hand in the plastics recycling market (see APR’s Design Guidelines, pg. 12).
o However, the practical side of recycling PET thermoforms will need consideration of paper in the future i.e. POP label application.

The APR Thermoform Label and Adhesive protocol follows these steps:
o Apply label
o Grind
o 1st Elutriation
o Wash/Sink float
o 2nd Elutriation
o Plaque
o Analysis

PFE has developed a screening evaluation that focuses on adhesive performance (this takes a label and adhesive that has been applied to a specific package):
o Ground per APR guidelines
o Washed per APR guidelines
o The resulting flakes are analyzed for separation of the label from the flake (paper vs. plastic label impacts this test insofar as paper labels tend to “stick” to flake)
o The resulting flakes are analyzed for impact of inks and the impact of residual adhesive on the flake

In Europe, a common test evaluates the solubility of adhesives; this protocol does not look at the potential impact of:
o Soluble adhesives that have gone into solution during the wash and rinse process and redeposit onto the processed PET flake;
o Residual adhesives that remain tacky are causing problems where labels and flake become stuck together during reprocessing, hindering the removal potential of a given label.

Ideal PET label substrate properties:
o Floatable
o Light weight
o Maintain printed inks
o Physical properties for better separation

Ideal PET label adhesive properties:
o Needs to dissolve into solution and not reapply itself OR
o Adhesive to remain with the label and not be tacky

PFE’s Screening Evaluation is designed to understand three basic areas where label and/or adhesive performance is crucial to meeting the guidelines set by the APR:
o Separation from flake
o Removal through Elutriation and Sink Float
o Adhesive solubility and potential impact on flakes
o Impact of inks on wash water and flakes (if printed)

It was concluded that pressure sensitive labels are a critical part of the entire package. Therefore it should not be isolated as the main indicator of adhesive contamination potential without considering the interaction of the other label components.

Whoa!

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!

Hello and happy Friday!

Want a sneak peek of Dordan’s feature in the May issue Plastics Technology?!?

Plastics Technology May Dordan feature

Next week’s post will provide feedback from the Walmart Expo and SVN meeting. I apologize for the delay; I have been swamped playing catch up!

Have a great weekend!

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!!!!

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!

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!

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.

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!

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!

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!”