Hey guys!

Happy July! I have a super-awesome blog post coming your way but FIRST, let us recap exciting developments in PET thermoform recycling!!! Afterall, this was the ENTIRE focus of my blog for the first two years of its life; consequently, I think it only fair to tip our hats to the industry and all those involved in the impressive journey to recycle clamshell packaging, narrated below.

On June 27, 2011, Plastics News published a story announcing that “Canada’s five grocery chains will require its suppliers to shift to PET clamshell thermoformed packaging in a move designed to simplify the product stream and increase recycling” (Miel, Canada’s Grocers: PET for Clamshells).

As described in my Recycling Report, developing the quantity necessary to sustain the process of recycling itself is crucial to the economic recovery of any packaging/material type. In encouraging suppliers transition thermoforms from PE/PS/etc. to PET, it is assumed that the amount of material available for recovery should increase, allowing for the efficient collection and repossessing thereof. In addition, replacing other resins with PET will reduce the amount of “look-alikes” in the recycling stream, limiting the likelihood of contamination from PVC, PETG, CPET, etc.

Kudos to Canadian grocers!

Click here for the full article.

On July 4, 2011, Plastics News reports, “Transitioning to adhesives that don’t hinder recycling could be one of the stickiest challenges that packaging thermoformers face in meeting the new mandate by the Retail Council of Canada that clamshell food packaging be made from PET by next year” (Verespeji, Adhesives Complicate Packaging Mandate). The article goes on to explain how most food thermoforms use pressure sensitive labels, which when recycled, gunk up the recyclate due to the aggressive properties of the adhesive. Consequently, retailers are working with “Adhesive and Sealant Council Inc. and the APR on a set of guidelines for labeling adhesives that will eliminate contamination from glues and labels” (Ibid).  

As per my Report, inks, labels and adhesives were another obstacle to PET thermoform recycling; thanks to the efforts of those cited above, these barriers (no pun intended) will soon be overcome. Awesome.

Click here for the full article.

On July 25, 2011, Plastics News announces that NAPCOR and SPI are to collaborate “in an initiative to propel the collection and recycling of thermoformed PET packaging…in a model program to demonstrate the economic feasibility of capturing the material” (Verespej, SPI Jumps on Thermoformed PET Recycling).

In my Recycling Report I emphasis the need for investment in recycling infrastructure and technology (collection, sortation, nourishment of domestic end markets, etc.) in regards to establishing the foundation on which PET thermoform recycling can thrive. I am SO proud of SPI, NAPCOR, and its member companies for developing this model program to determine the feasibility of nation-wide PET thermoform recycling.

Click here for the article.

On March 19, 2012, Plastics News announces the winners of the SPI/NAPCOR model PET thermoform grant! Click here for the winner descriptions!

AND, on June 29, 2012, Packaging Digest reports that, “…beginning immediately residents of single-family homes receiving recycling pick-ups [in Montgomery County, Maryland] can now add PET thermoform plastics to their recycling bins” (Spinner, SPI Boosts Recycling of PET Thermoforms in MD).

Click here for the full article!

Making moves in PET thermoform recycling! Can you believe our Green Manufacturer cover story narrating our efforts to recycling clamshell packaging came out almost a year ago!?! How time flies when progress is being made! I am so thrilled to have been part of the discourse on thermoform recycling and tickled pink to see the progress resulting since I first discovered that clamshell packaging was not recycled in 2009. I can’t believe that soon I will be able to say, without a doubt, that clamshell packaging IS recycled; take that paper people!

Helllooooo my packaging and sustainability friends! I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentines Day! Here is my Valentine for you; won’t you be mine?!?

Today’s post is a little of this and a little of that…

I am in the process of connecting with a friend of a friend who is the chief buyer for a large company of PET bales for re-manufacture into fiber and textiles. He is reported to be very knowledgeable of the PET recycling industry and where the inclusion of thermoforms in said industry is heading. More details to come! 

I am to follow up early next week with my contact at S+S Sorting in regards to the status of their pilot, which looks to understand the technical differences between reprocessing bottle-grade PET vs. thermoform-grade. Stay tuned!

AND, did you happen to see this Plastics News article that discusses the impressive increase in non-bottle rigid plastics recycling?!? Good stuff. However, if you pair that with this article, published yesterday, you can see some of the unforeseen consequences of progress in non-bottle rigid plastics recycling. Just some food for thought… 

My next post will discuss feedback from the last SPC conference (yes, this is from a super long time ago) insofar as updates to the material health working-group is concerned. To wet your whistle, this working group looks to develop metrics and indicators for assessing the material health of different packaging material substrates in regards to the affects of exposure on human health i.e. toxicity. Currently, as discussed in previous posts, packaging LCA-based comparative packaging assessment tools like COMPASS don’t really take into consideration the material health of different package designs as life cycle analysis, by its nature, utilizes weight-based analysis; toxins in packaging material substrates are often times so miniscule that this type of weight-based approach to understanding the ramifications on human health is ambiguous. Does that make some sense? It should with further investigation in my next post. 

Tootles! 

Holly Toledo!

May 21, 2010

Happy Friday!

So I have been working on a presentation on everything sustainability for one of Dordan’s customers. Sustainability and Packaging 101, per se.

Anywoo, it took me two days and 190 slides to finish, but I am FINALLY DONE!

It’s jam packed with good stuff–basically a summary of all my work to date–so check it out!

Sustainability and Packaging Presentation, Blog

Enjoy the heat-wave this weekend, my fellow Chicagoians!

Also, please do not reproduce or distribute without my written consent. Thanks!

Day 26: Nov. 21st, 2009

March 11, 2010

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

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

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

Shall we resume our recycling narrative?

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

Hey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Chandler

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

Hey,

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

Have a great weekend!

Best,

Chandler

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

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

Hey,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Chandler

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

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

Day 24: Nov. 18th, 2009

March 4, 2010

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

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

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

NY Starbucks stores launch cup-recycling program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To visit this article on greenerpackage.com:

http://www.greenerpackage.com/sourcing_renewable/ny_starbucks_stores_launch_cup-recycling_program

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

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

Greetings,

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

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

Thanks!

Chandler

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

Day 14: Oct. 27, 2009

February 17, 2010

The next day I arrived to the office full of enthusiasm; I had brought my favorite lunch—penne puntanesca and garlic bread—which ensured that no one in the office would want to talk to me for the duration of the afternoon. Silence is golden. 😉

After establishing that NAPCOR was super cool but a little outside our means at this time, I found another industry group dedicated to the use and recycling of plastics: APR stands for the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers. Like NAPCOR, they represent those in the industry that work with post consumer plastics. Their website reads:

Our goal is simple-we want to increase the amount of plastic material that is recycled in North America. We do that by sponsoring education workshops and ‘webinars’ designed to help local and state solid waste officials learn more about the technology of plastics recycling and the markets for material; holding design for recyclability workshops for packaging professionals; working to assist legislators to make decisions that enhance the recycling of plastics; and numerous other market development and technical programs.

RADICAL… I sent a letter of inquiry to the email provided:

Hello,

My name is Chandler Slavin—I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a Midwestern based, national supplier of custom thermoformed solutions. We source post consumer RPET for manufacturing our packages and are currently investigating recycling options for the end-of-life management of our products. After visiting your web-site I am interested in your association and would like to know the process of applying for membership and also the advantages of being a member. Are any thermoform members in the APR?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best,

Chandler Slavin

In a previous post I described a conversation I had with a representative from the SPI (plastics industry trade association); I discussed her desire to help increase the recycling rates of plastic packaging but emphasized her underlining understanding of economics and how such economics did not support such an initiative. During this conversation I suggested that the SPI revisit the resin ID numbers currently prescribed to different polymers used in plastic packaging in order to account for the introduction of PLA into the stream and make recycling of plastics easier. She subsequently indicated that a subcommittee was formed that year to address these concerns and indicated that she would follow up with me about their approach.

To my surprised, that day I received a follow-up email from this contact:

Hi Chandler,

Thanks so much for the call earlier and the great conversation. Sounds like you have your hands full with issues surrounding sustainability, “green-washing”, recycling, bio-resins, additives, resin identification code, Wal-mart Scorecard, and the ultimate goal of reclaiming all your clamshell packaging. These issues are being addressed in our processors council and materials supplier council predominantly.

I have touched base with our sales director in the Midwest. He will follow up with you to give you a better sense of the issues, including the above, that we are involved with on behalf of industry. And, certainly I am available as well.

Hurray; another bread crumb! Processors council and materials supplier council, eh? Time to do more research!

After lunch that day, I got a call from the Midwestern sales director of the SPI. He was really cool, and although he wasn’t totally versed in sustainability issues, he listened to what I had to say and told me he would put me in touch with someone at SPI that would be more of a help to me and my inquiries.

Splendid.

Ironically, later that day, just as I was assembling my things to catch the train back to Chicago, I received the following email:

Dear Plastics Industry Professional,

On September 23, 2009, ASTM International’s D20.95 subcommittee on Recycled Plastics distributed a new draft subcommittee ballot on the resin identification codes to its membership. There are 18 new items being balloted as part of the draft, which will update the original system developed in 1988 by SPI. Members of the D20.95 subcommittee are eligible to vote on the draft until its closing date on October 23, 2009. SPI is strongly encouraging all members of D20.95 to review and vote on this ballot.

Huh…so the SPI is reconsidering the resin ID numbers; that’s great! Although the language of this email is a little ambiguous, at least they are being proactive about these issues. I wonder how I get involved…

Just before I walked out the door, I sent the sales director of the SPI this follow-up email:

Hey, 

 I just wanted to send you a quick email to follow up with our phone conversation today. First, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about my concerns regarding the plastic packaging industry. As per our conversation, I was wondering if there were any contacts at your association who would like to have a dialogue with me about issues pertaining to sustainability and the plastic packaging industry. Aside from the millennial campaign and discussions about adding to the SPI resin identification number family, what else is SPI doing to confront the challenges facing our industry? How is SPI working to save the reputation of the plastic industry? What kind of initiatives is SPI taking to increase the sustainability profile of plastics? Is SPI considering different material recovery technologies or recycling programs?

As per our conversation, I have spent a considerable amount of time researching issues pertaining to plastic and sustainability. If there is anyone I could talk with, or would appreciate talking to me at SPI or one of its sister organizations, please let me know.  

Thanks!

Chandler

Tune in tomorrow for more recycling in America tidbits; good times!