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Plastics Today, September 2015

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Plastics Recycling Plasticstoday.com global Plastics RePoRt 2015 31 result, many of these facilities do not have the capabilities to efficiently sort the myriad plastic packaging in the mar- ket today," said Tim Goodman, Cradle- to-Cradle Manager, NatureWorks (Minnetonka, MN). "While they do an adequate job of sorting out PET and HDPE plastic bottles and jugs, they are not equipped to sort the variable sizes, shapes and multi- material plastic packaging that is now part of the recycling stream. Along with trash and other items, which should not be in the recycling cart, these materials over- whelm the capabilities of the equipment, resulting in contamination of recovered materials of all types as well as the over- sight of recyclable materials that end up in the residual stream," said Goodman. Another big hurdle for the PCR industry is packaging innovation. "We are going to see packaging continue to evolve to meet the needs of consumers to better protect products and achieve reduced overall environmental footprints. These changes can, at times, present challenges for recyclers when new materials are introduced," said Holmes. "What I think we are seeing today, however, is a concerted effort on the part of packaging manufacturers to work with the recycling community to address the impacts those changes may have on recycling systems. These material suppli- ers and processors are getting involved in evaluating processes, technologies and additives that can expand recovery opportunities for the products that don't seem to fit in the current recycling infra- structure. You are seeing the entire sup- ply chain getting involved in the recovery discussion, which greatly increases our likelihood of solving these challenges," Holmes added. Collaboration is key The plastic pollution issue at hand can- not be solved by just one party. Collabo- ration between government, the plastics industry and consumers is imperative for PCR to be successful. "I think the supply chain collabora- tion that is happening to address end- of-life challenges is key, and I think the formation of the Recycling Committee within SPI is a demonstration of the industry creating that collaborative model," said Holmes. "In this committee, we have recyclers, resin suppliers, equipment makers, pro- cessors and brand owners all working together on end-of-life issues. In the past, I think all parties generally took a siloed approach to improving recycling. I think we've seen that only got us so far and it really is going to take collabora- tion to get us past where we are at today." "In addition to the supply chain col- laboration that is happening, I think we are also seeing increased commu- nication and collaboration happening between different trade associations and non-profit groups, as well. Many of us have shared goals and specific areas of expertise. When we bring those things together, we get much farther much more quickly," Holmes added. Trending now According to Goodman, there are a couple trends right now, which are help- ing to improve recovery efforts. First, sorting equipment is becoming more sophisticated and fine-tuned to help improve the recovery of postcon- sumer packaging. One example of this is the advances in optical sorting technol- ogy, which allows equipment to identify a wider array of material with greater accuracy. As MRFs begin to modernize this equipment, it will allow them to recover more varied materials with better recovery rates. Currently, there are still MRFs in the United States that operate without optical sorting equipment. "If we can improve the MRF, we can improve the quality of bales, which helps the overall economics and efficiency of recycling further down the value chain," said Holmes. "In return for making investments in better equipment, MRFs will see a financial return, too, as their efficiency and output increase." Another trend is the growth of sec- ondary processing to recover recyclables that were missed by the first MRF or to recover packaging that might not be cost effective for the first MRF to recover because of lower volumes. Secondary processing can take the form of recovering plastic packaging from mixed plastic bales sent to plas- tics recovery facilities or, in some cases, recovering plastic packaging, aluminum, steel and even paper from MRF residual streams delivered to a secondary MRF. Goodman adds that when it comes to other types of plastic packaging, beyond PET and HDPE, applications and mar- ket demand for postconsumer plastics are lagging. To complete the value chain, much more will need to be done to cre- ate applications and market demand for other postconsumer plastics. As industry continues to shift packaging and prod- ucts to plastics, applications and markets for postconsumer plastic packaging will develop, and that creates opportuni- ties. The demand for recycled content, along with advances in such things as compounding chemistry, composites manufacturing and 3D printing technol- ogy will help drive new applications and markets for postconsumer plastics recycling. Making EPS foaM Part of a SuStainablE Solution Kerry Flickner was not a happy man when he read about the six largest U.S. school districts replacing EPS foam food trays with com- postable paper plates. His biggest problem, he told PlasticsToday, is the lack of any com- mercial composting facility that can process the volume of paper plate waste feedstock these districts are expected to produce. Flick- ner, who is National Director, Waste Solutions, at Foodservice Sustainability Solutions (FSS; Marietta, GA), doubts that very few, if any, of these plates will actually be composted. FSS specializes in waste stream reduction and recycling programs for so-called dirty EPS foam waste and the food waste produced in commercial and institutional foodservice operations. One way FSS is achieving this goal is through its equipment—a machine called the StyroGenie. One StyroGenie will process on site up to 3,600 foam foodservice trays per day. Through a proprietary process, the StyroGenie reduces waste volume by 95%, creating two blocks that weigh 8 to 10 pounds each. The blocks are then set aside at the school until the company picks them up—typically once a month or bimonthly, depending on the size of the school—for delivery to the FSS processor for recycling or resource recovery, diverting 100% of waste from local landfills. — Clare Goldsberry

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