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! 

Hello my packaging and sustainability friends!

Sooo I don’t know if you read that article I referenced a post or two ago in Machine Design Magazine about PET thermoform recycling BUT you should because it continues the dialogue on clamshell recycling. Click here to read “Good News and Bad News about Recycling Thermoforms.” The interview for this article was more technical than those previous because the audience of the publication is engineers; the site’s tagline is “By engineers for engineers.” Anyway, after I received the reporter’s first draft of the article and performed my edits I sent it to several colleagues in the waste management industry to get their feedback as I was a little intimidated by the scope and breath of the piece. Thankfully I heard back from my friend who is the North Carolina Recycling Program Director and familiar with the barriers keeping PET thermoforms from being recycled in the Carolinas from the perspective of the state. As a side note, I met this gentleman two years ago at a Walmart SVN conference when I bombarded him with questions on thermoform recycling after his presentation (this was before I published my “Recycling Report©”). He was such a doll, patiently explaining his perspective on the matter, and has been a sounding board for my inquiries ever since. His comments are below:

You are doing an amazing job of trying to move thermoform recycling into the mainstream. It is a daunting task. As much as we try to pay attention to it and have dialogue with various players here in the Carolinas, we have yet to have any breakthroughs. There is an interesting trend for communities to expand plastic collection to non-bottle containers, but the situation on thermoforms is always ambiguous – are they in or are they out? Our bigger MRFs are definitely employing optical sorters to divert PET from the MRF stream but no one seems to have a handle on whether thermoforms go along for the ride and, if they do, if mixing them with bottles is okay with the markets. Or whether a secondary sort after the optical sorter is needed.

But I think you did a fine job of describing what is a surprisingly complex recycling process. There is so much change going on in the industry right now, it is frankly bewildering. I think folks see where we need to go, but it is really hard to figure out how to get there. When it comes to thermoforms (like a lot of other things), I think we just need a few breakthroughs with some “early adopters” who solve the chicken-egg dilemma of collection and then processing/marketing the materials. To that end, I am hopeful that the NAPCOR projects yield some useful results.

I’ve got a lot on my plate, but if you need any help in educating folks (reporters, or whoever) about some of the nuances of the recycling and waste management world, I’d be glad to weigh in. I really appreciate how much energy and thoughtfulness you are bringing to this work… Hang in there – you are doing great!

Aw shucks, whata guy.

This dialogue coincides with some other happenings in PET thermoform recycling, including an advertisement I was forwarded from the editor of Canadian Packaging Magazine showcasing the different “APR-approved label solutions” from Avery Dennison. Click here to see the ad. As per previous conversations, NAPCOR and others found that the adhesives used on thermoform packaging was too aggressive, rendering PET thermoforms unrecyclable insofar as the adhesive would gunk up the material during the process of recycling. Consequently, APR established a protocol in which adhesives used on labels had to be approved for application on thermoforms in Canada. Having received the ad from Avery, I am confident that the industry is taking this initiative seriously and developing adhesives and labels that are conducive to PET thermoform recycling. Hurray!

And the plot thickens!

While at the last SPC meeting I met a rather rambunctious fella who did not fancy the APR’s work in these regards; he represents an industry group of laminated paper products manufacturers. After some playful banter (I of course applaud the efforts of the APR looking to facilitate thermoform recycling by eliminating those elements that act as deterrent to recycling while he found fault with the approach of the APR), we agreed to schedule a follow up conference call. Months later I am happy that such a call is finally coming to fruition, scheduled for this Thursday! I look forward to learning about his perceptive on the matter and as always, promise to share his insights with you, my sustainable packaging enthusiasts.

AND I just received word that the S+S Sorting pilot, which looks to understand the technical differences between reprocessing bottle-grade PET vs. thermoform-grade PET, has been pushed back 3-4 weeks; more details to come.

This has nothing to do with any of the above BUT check out this super adorable article about my father and our family business. We even got the centerfold of this week’s Plastics News! How sexy!

Heyo!

Long time no chat! As per a previous post’s statement, I spoke with a representative from Algix a couple weeks back in regards to their algae-based plastic that has been successfully injection molded into different parts. Unfortunately I have misplaced my notes from the call, which detailed the technicalities involved in synthesizing a resin from an algae-based feedstock, including the unique chemistry of this process. But fear not! Check out the inquiries below I just emailed to my friend at Algix who defiantly is the go-to guy for all things algae-based-technology related.  

  • Please describe the relationship between textile manufacturers/dairy producers and algae. In other words, how does algae become a waste product of these industries’ processes and how is it ideal for manipulation into bio-based plastics?
  • How is post-industrial algae synthesized into bio-based plastics? In other words, how is the protein in algae bound to the plastic components to allow for application to injection molding? What additives are required to allow for the synthesis OR used to increase the properties of the material? I remember discussions of protein-based materials (cellulous) vs. carbon-based (bio-PET) and how the former “connects” to the plastic molecule similar to how the calcium carbonate connects to the PP polymer, for example.  Please expand on this analogy.
  • What is the preferred end-of-life treatment of this unique bio-based plastic? Is it similar to the approach taken by PLA supplier NatureWorks, which looks to generate the quantity necessary to sustain the creation of a closed-loop recycling process in which PLA would be recycled in its own post-consumer stream?

Hopefully, more details to come!

NEXT, Dordan’s collaboration with material science company Ecovative in regards to the design of their thermoformed “grow trays” was recently covered in several industry articles: First published on GreenerPackage.com and then Packaging World the story subsequently made its way into HealthCare Packaging! Thereafter,  a different version of the story appeared on PlasticsToday.com; this focused more on how the limitations of Ecovative’s manufacturing processes, couple with those inherent in thermoforming, dictated the overall design of the grow trays. Obviously I am biased, but I think this story is super clever insofar as it demonstrates how different packaging suppliers can collaborate in new and exciting ways, leveraging existing technologies like thermoforming and innovations in material science (ahem, growing packaging!) to facilitate process efficiencies  within the supply chain. I especially like how Ecovative’s Sam explained how thermoforming, unlike a lot of engineering processes, is “a bit of an art form,” giving merit to one of Dordan’s marketing slogans: “Dordan, the perfect blend of art and engineering.”  Neato! You may recall a video from Pack Expo that shows Sam and I discussing this collaboration; the GreenerPackage.com/Packaging World feature is as follow up to that discussion. I hope you like the photos of the thermoformed grow trays—I roamed around Dordan’s factory sticking the 21X21 inch tray here and there, finally finding a home for it sandwiched between a narrow cavity in one of our skids, ha!

 Next, our efforts to recycle thermoformed packaging are being featured in the Reporter’s Notebook series of Machine Design Magazine. This is one of the more technical interviews I have experienced, with questions as complex as: describe the waste management industry in America, yikes! Expect a digital version of the story latter this afternoon…(two hours later)…and here it is!

If I could reflect for a moment…how awesome is the PR/publishing industry in the packaging space?!? From blogging about our efforts to recycle thermoform packaging to having said efforts awarded the cover feature in Green Manufacturer Magazine to creating a press release describing our collaboration with Ecovative that subsequently caught the attention of Greener Package editor Anne Marie Mohan at Pack Expo, I can’t believe the success we have experienced getting our story out to a large and targeted audience via these news channels. So HOOHA to the packaging industry and its fabulous representation in the news via these proactive and innovative publishing houses.

Let’s see what now. I sent a follow up email to my friend at S+S sorting in regards to the results of their pilot looking to investigate the technical differences between reprocessing bottle-grade and thermoform-grade PET. Thanks for those of you who participated in my poll following my last post; more polls to come!

Last but not least, meet the Dordanites! As per a reporter’s request for inclusion in an upcoming publication, my father and Dordan CEO Daniel and my brothers and Dordan Account Executives Sean and Aric and yours truly participated in a photoshoot last week. Obviously there are a lot of other Dordanites—aside from those that carry the Slavin name—that make Dordan such a lovely place to work. From engineering to production to management, we are proud of our employees and while little to they know, they will soon be beckoned for a company photoshoot, muhahahaha.

Enjoy!

Dordan CEO Daniel explaining thermoforming

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Dan expanding on art of thermoforming

Dordanites looking all fly; Sales Manager Aric far right, CEO Dan second from right, Account Exec Sean left of Dan, and ME far left

Our more normal demeanor

My boys!

HA! I think this is silly

Do we see a pattern developing?!?

There we go!

Awwwww

Because you should never take yourself too seriously...

In my next post I will discuss (FINALLY) feedback from the SPC’s material health working group, which looks to develop indicators and metrics to assess the safety of materials used in packaging. This stuff gets pretty heady so make sure you bring your thinking cap!

Hello and happy first Friday of 2012!

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

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

I was hoping you could help explain why the sorting technology your company manufacturers is only designed to reprocesses PET bottles, as opposed to PET thermoforms or other variants of PET. Is there a technical difference between bottle-grade PET and thermo-grade PET insofar as your machines’ ability to reprocess the material successfully? In other words, if your machines accepted mixed bales of PET bottles and thermoforms would they be able to “reprocess” the material into bottle-grade PET flake/pellets? Would the thermo-grade PET be interpreted as a contaminate or undetectable to the sortation technology?

And his response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Based on this information we can go into more details.

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

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

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

Hey yall!

Sooo I know I said I was going to post today on the SPC meeting BUT I recieved a response to yesterday’s post from Ron Sherga who is super duper well versed in PET recycling. He is currently an advisor on recycling and sustainable strategies at Heritage Environmental Services, as per his LinkedIn profile.

Check out our exchange below:

Chandler, here are the challenges in regards to your question.

Basically, there are two ways to sort on a large scale commercial level.

One is using optic sorting equipment, or more accurately, near infrared or NIR. this will not work on black . There is no fast way to discern a black colored materials composition using fast scanning technology.

The second method is to size reduce and process thru a system where materials are separated based on their specific gravity. This is done using centrifuge machinery and various fluid designs…. But let’s call it a salt water medium.

Other than these and hand sorting (which relies on eyesight and touch); that’s about it.

And my response:

Hey thanks!

I understand that the sortation technologies you describe are usually employed at the MRF/PRF facility…what I am interested in are the types of machines companies like S+S Sorting manufacture, which are often bought by the big wigs of PET recycling (Coke), and therefore more proactive in recycling PET materials into RPET flake, bottles, etc. In other words, I am trying to learn more about the privatization of PET recycling technology and why this technology is only being designed to recycle PET bottles. Does this make sense? I confuse myself sometimes!

Hmmmmm…

More details to come following my conference call with S+S Sorting!

Tomorrow’s post WILL discuss feedback from the SPC meeting, specifically, the SPC’s suggestion of “collective reporting” amongst it’s member companies.

AND, did you guys know of this conference!?! It was just brought to my attention, but looks AMAZING!

OH, and check out this Packaging Digest article— your powerhouse in stilletos is quoted, ha! I think if my head gets any bigger, it’s going to explode! But in an awesome way.

Tootles!

Humbled by the Machine

October 21, 2011

Hello and happy Friday!

So last week I presented at the Polyester Extrusion and Recycling Conference in Chicago on progress in recycling thermoforms since I published my Recycling Report in 2010. I’m really glad I went to this conference though the content diverged dramatically from the usual packaging and sustainability conferences I attend. As the name would imply, those speaking and attending this event were stakeholders in the extrusion and recycling machinery market; hence, I was amongst the ranks of representatives from Starlinger, Kreyenborg, EREMA, S + S Sorting, etc. These gentlemen (I was the only woman speaker) held extremely prestigious degrees in mechanical and chemical engineering from a variety of domestic and international universities, most having 10+ years experience in the plastics industry. Holy Toledo.

It is not a fair assessment to say I was intimidated by these gentleman and their extensive knowledge into plastic extrusion and recycling but I was humbled by their insights insofar as it presented yet another dimension to the complexities surrounding recycling in America. To date, my research into the recycling of clamshells has been dictated by a certain perspective, which can best be explained as a macroscopic view of waste management that focuses exclusively on post consumer residential waste and the market and technological requirements necessary for the economical recovery of a specific packaging material/type in the North American context. What was not included in this paradigm, therefore, was the privatization of the recycling technology market and the disconnect between those designing packaging and those designing machines capable of recycling said packaging. In other words, I have spent almost two years trying to understand the barriers to recycling thermoforms from a waste management perspective i.e. what waste management needs to begin collecting new materials for recycling; issues discussed include critical mass i.e. material generation in the waste stream available for recovery, supply and demand, international vs. domestic consumption of recyclables, sortation systems, specs for collection and baling, etc. What was not included in said analysis was the technical aspect to recycling, that is, how machines are designed or not designed to recycle/reprocess a specific material/packaging type. Several speakers in the recycling machinery market discussed their machine innovations and how said innovations allow post-consumer PET bottles to be reprocessed into an array of products from direct-food contact sheet and containers to strapping and/or polyester fiber/textiles. The technology was so sophisticated that it would maintain a homogenous IV, eliminate any spec of contaminant, be it dirt, sand, metal, etc., and produce clean flake, pellet, or product. It was crazy the level of sophistication that these machines seem to offer. However, most of the machinery discussed requires bales of PET bottles for reprocessing, with no attention given to PET thermoform bales or PET thermoform and bottle bales. Though it was not touched upon exclusively and I may not be well versed enough in these issues to comment, it seems as though these machines are developed primarily and exclusively to reprocesses PET bottles and any other derivative of PET, specifically thermoforms, are not considered nor desired. This observation leads one to conclude that if we are serious about recovering PET thermoforms, either within the PET bottle stream or as its own thermoform-PET exclusive stream, we need to collaborate with those manufacturing the recycling machines and technology.

I sent one of the presenters from S + S Sortation an email looking for more information on thermo-PET vs. bottle-PET in the context of what their recycling machines are capable of reprocessing and get more information on why the machines favor PET bottles exclusively. In a nut shell, I want to understand why there are no machines that were discussed at this conference that cater to recycling PET thermoforms + PET bottles OR PET thermoforms exclusively: Is it because lack of supply, investment, economics, etc.

Stay tuned!

AND, for your viewing pleasure, check out this video from Pack Expo—it’s my friend from Ecovative and I discussing the collaboration between our two companies on the design of their thermoformed “grow trays” for their new cooler product line.

Hey!

It’s official! Check out the email I got from Cal Recycle last night:

Plastic Collection and Recycling Listserv

The National Association for PET Container Recources (NAPCOR) and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) have just issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a grant of up to $100,000 to be awarded for development of a model PET thermoform recycling program. Funds are available to any United States’ MRF or recycling program operator that can affect the variety of elements necessary for a successful program, as described more fully in the RFP.

The RFP is available for reviewing or download on the NAPCOR web site at http://www.napcor.com/PET/thermoRFP.html. Proposals are due on or before September 30, 2011.

AWESOME!

Go NAPCOR and SPI!!!

Hey and happy Friday!

Check out this PlasticsNews article! Good stuff!!!

Canadian grocery chains to require clamshell suppliers to shift to PET
By Rhoda Miel | PLASTICS NEWS STAFF
Posted June 23, 2011

TORONTO (June 23, 3:35 p.m. ET) — Canada’s top five grocery chains will require its suppliers to shift to PET for clamshell thermoformed packaging in a move designed to simplify the product stream and increase recycling.

Wal-Mart Canada Corp. officials are also talking to suppliers across national boundaries for the initiative, and expect it will expand as part of the increased emphasis on sustainability for the world’s biggest retailer.

“Right now, there are 5.8 billion pounds of [thermoformed] packaging going into landfills in North America each year. Our goal is to facilitate the recycling of that material,” said Guy McGuffin, vice president of sustainable packaging for Wal-Mart Canada of Mississauga, Ontario, during the Wal-Mart Sustainable Packaging Conference June 22 as part of PackEx Toronto.

“The idea is to move away from materials that are not easily recycled and into materials that are more easily recycled. If we work together, we believe we can recover that 5.8 billion pounds, which would be a fantastic result.”

PET is already widely recycled, with a recycling stream already in place for bottles. Pushing for PET and eliminating, as much as possible, “look-alike” plastics which complicate recovery — and discourage both municipal recycling collections and recyclers from taking clamshell containers — the retailers believe they will open the floodgates for more thermoformed PET collection and reuse.

Other materials may have their use, but the retailers believe PET can provide an adequate substitute. In those cases when PET is not viable, it will encourage polystyrene. Polylactic acid containers have their own “green” credentials, officials said, but using it in thermoforming just complicates an already overly-complex set of obstacles to recycling, so Wal-Mart and other stores preferred PET as the industry standard.

In addition, retailers are working with the Adhesive and Sealant Council and the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers on a set of guidelines for labeling adhesives that will eliminate contamination from glues and labels.

The Retail Council of Canadian Grocers will require all labels to meet APR-certified adhesives by Jan. 1, said Christian Shelepuk, waste reduction program manager for Wal-Mart Canada.

Canada’s biggest grocery store chain, Loblaws Inc. of Brampton, Ontario, first contacted the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., in summer 2010, wanting to eliminate unrecyclable packaging, said Mike Schedler, technical director for NAPCOR.

When it was told that its 1,400 stores still would not create enough critical mass to bring PET clamshell recycling into the mainstream, it began working with other Canadian firms — Wal-Mart, Safeway Canada, Metro and Sobeys — in a cooperative effort to bring about the change.

The companies have coordinated the project through the Retail Council of Canada’s grocery group, working with recyclers and recycled PET users to identify and solve issues that would derail its efforts.

Ontario’s extended producer responsibility regulations, which give companies more responsibility for their waste, is helping prod the move, Schedler said.

“There are a lot more market drivers in Canada than in the U.S. that are very visible and pushing this forward,” he said. “The amount of dollars they would have to pay for their unrecycled material would not be insignificant.”

Early on, the group came together around a bale of used thermoformed PET containers and got a quick lesson on one of the primary problems, said Leon Hall, manager of sustainable packaging for Wal-Mart Canada.

When they cut apart the bindings holding the containers together, the bale held its shape. Glue used on the labels was strong enough to hold the compacted plastics together — and contaminate the entire bale, Hall said. Even if separated, the glue would gum up machinery, and current washing methods used to separate labels from bottles in PET bottle recycling did not work with the adhesives used in thermoforming.

In November, the retailers began working with the Adhesive and Sealant Council to tackle the glue problem. The groups decided the best solution would be to adapt to sealants that already work on PET bottles, said Matt Croson, president and CEO of the Bethesda, Md.-based ASC.

Adhesive makers must register their products with the APR by July 15. APR will then test and certify those adhesives as working with existing cleaning systems already in place for PET bottles. By Jan. 1, the retailer’s group will require its suppliers to use thermoform packaging that meets APR guidelines.

“This one’s not complicated,” Hall said. “Choose materials that can be recycled and while you’re at it, fix the adhesive, because that [label] doesn’t need to stay on there forever.”

It is not just the adhesives getting extra attention, however. During testing, Wal-Mart discovered that the Chilean-based supplier of blueberries was using a fluorescent blue additive in its PET packaging to make the berries look better, he said. That produced a recycled flake that did not meet standards. Wal-Mart is now working on global specifications for those and other additives which contaminate the stream.

With those changes, recyclers should be able to loop thermoformed PET into its existing bottle feedstock.

“We have the capability to manage thermoforms if they’re mixed in with the bottle flow,” said Ryan L’Abbé, vice president and general manager of private label water bottler Ice River Springs Water Company Inc.’s PET recycling unit, Blue Mountain Plastics Division.

Ice River, based in Feversham, Ontario, opened its own PET recycling plant in Shelbourne, Ontario. It collects PET from municipal recycling programs in Ontario, Michigan and New York and sorts, cleans and grinds to flake. It then uses the flake in its in-house PET extrusion, pre-forms and blow molding.

“We need more recycled content,” L’Abbé said. “We want to put (PET) into a product that’s recycled again and again and again. We can really consume a lot of the thermoforms that are in the market currently, and that’s a big benefit.”

The project will also benefit more than bottlers or retailers. Shelepuk said Wal-Mart estimates the recycled content of mixed plastics now in thermoformed packaging is worth $120 a ton, but that should climb to $600 per ton as part of the PET stream. That kind of money at high volume will pay for the recycling process, he said.

In addition, the companies estimate that PET packaging recycling across North American could create more than 20,000 jobs.

“As an industry,” Hall said, “we can make this happen.”

Plastics News staff reporter Mike Verespej contributed to this report.