2013 Paper Recycling Conference: Diversified End Markets Are Key in Plastics Recycling

The 2013 Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show kicked off Oct. 16 with a number of workshops that looked beyond the conference’s namesake material, including “Plastics Recycling: What You Need to Know to Succeed.” In this session speakers Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) recycler Envision Plastics, Reidsville, N.C., and Patty Moore, president and CEO of Moore Recycling Associates, Sonoma, Calif., addressed the importance of diversified end markets as well as other factors to ensure success in the field of plastics recycling. Moore and Ettefagh also looked at a number of issues related to plastics recycling, including bale specifications, China’s Operation Green Fence and optimal collection methods, offering their insights into these areas.

Regarding China’s Operation Green Fence, which was initially implemented in February of this year, Moore said Chinese government officials initially said the program, which was designed to enforce a number of the country’s existing laws regarding the importation of scrap material, was to conclude at the end of November. However, after a recent visit to China during which Moore spoke with government officials and recycling industry representatives, she concluded that Operation Green Fence would remain in place indefinitely, adding that things would not be going back to the way they were before this measure was implemented.

“For the first time, buyers are able to impose bale specs on suppliers,” Moore said of the current situation regarding recovered plastics being shipped to China. She added that this also meant suppliers were able to get a premium price for quality material they shipped to Chinese consumers.

Markets for low-grade materials have not completely disappeared as a result of Operation Green Fence, Moore added, noting that outlets are still available, though pricing for such material has declined substantially.

Ettefagh said she saw an opportunity for traditional paper stock packers to expand into plastics recycling by establishing PRFs (paper and plastics recovery facilities). These operations would differ from MRFs (material recovery facilities) in that they would narrow their focus to paper and plastics packaging. She advised operators to limit their focus to plastics that offered critical mass, such as film and rigid containers, particularly the stream of polyolefin plastics generated by grocery stores.

Ettefagh stressed the need for plastics recyclers to have diversified end markets, noting that many markets, such as HDPE pipes used in construction, may be seasonal in nature.

Moore said recyclers needed to know exactly what they were buying when purchasing material for processing, adding that some additives make plastics nearly impossible to recycle.

She also offered her thoughts on the best collection methods for various types of plastics, suggesting that retail drop-off was the best method to collect plastic film, curbside recycling was best for rigid containers and perhaps EPS (expanded polystyrene), special collections were best for bulky rigids and commercial collection was best for commercially generated rigids, foam and film.

The Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show is taking place Oct. 16-18 at the Marriott Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile. The 2014 event also will be held in Chicago Oct. 8-10. More information is available at www.PaperRecyclingConference.com

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