Re|focus event looks to drive demand for recycled materials

June 10, 2015,  Washington, D.C.

by William R. Carteaux & Kim Holmes

SPI plans new event for April 2016 in Orlando

As professionals in plastics manufacturing, it is incumbent upon us to lead the industry in developing strategies that drive innovation, particularly when faced with an issue like recycling that affects the entire supply chain. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figures suggest that only 9 percent of plastic was recycled from the municipal solid waste stream in 2012 (latest figures available). SPI thinks it’s time to create strategies that will help drive demand for recycled materials, thus we’ve launched the Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo.

The potential to grow the use of recycled plastics in manufacturing is enormous. The U.S. plastics industry is the 3rd largest manufacturing industry in the U.S., producing nearly $400 billion in products. Frankly, it is impossible to look at those numbers and fail to see the potential to drive demand and create new opportunities for the recycling industry. Reducing supply chain obstacles and eliminating manufacturing barriers so we can make that happen in a meaningful way is the goal of Re|focus, slated for April 2016 in Orlando, Fla.

We’ve discussed this topic with many of you, and we think we agree that Re|focus fulfills an unmet niche in the recycling conference market. SPI plans to join brand owners and processors, as well as others who have never engaged in the recycling conversation for discussions that emphasize solutions. The event will challenge attendees to “refocus” on product design and manufacturing with an eye toward recycled content, design for recycling and driving sustainability in manufacturing. Creating a stronger market pull for recycled content will directly benefit recyclers and municipal collection efforts.

Industry leaders who look closely at what we have planned will see that SPI has conceived a fresh, new approach to addressing sustainability issues. With the recycling rate having been essentially stagnant for the past 10 years, doing more of the same will only produce the same results. It’s time for a new approach, new conversations and new tools for the industry. It’s time for Re|focus. We will no longer wait for the plastics industry to join the recycling industry’s conversation; instead we will take the conversation to them.  It is also important to note that all funds generated from the Re|focus Summit & Expo will be reinvested into the industry’s recovery and sustainability efforts.

If you have questions about this event, contact us. Re|focus is an exciting, innovative approach to one our industry’s most critical issues. To learn more, please visit http://www.refocussummit.org.

William R. Carteaux

SPI President and CEO

Kim Holmes

SPI Senior Director of Recycling and Diversions

Weighing the next 40 years of recycling

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Waste & Recycling News’ commemorative issue, “40 Years of Curbside Recycling.”

Recycling at high-rise apartments offers a great opportunity to collect a large amount of materials from one location, but containers that tenants empty their household bins into can fill fast, especially on weekends.

Instead of toting the potential commodities back to their unit, some residents trash them.

Overcoming the hurdles to convenient recycling at multiple-family housing needs to be addressed, said Steven Thompson, executive director of Curbside Value Partnership, a non-profit group that works with cities and states to increase participation.

“You have to have architects designing multiple chutes on the 30th floor instead of just one for trash,” Thompson said. “That’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.”

He hopes it is one of the changes that come about in the next 40 years for curbside recycling.

“There are conundrums the industry doesn’t have its head around, like rural areas,” Thompson said. “It’s very hard to cost-effectively recycle when you have three miles between mailboxes.”

The 40th anniversary of curbside recycling begs the question: What will it be like in the next four decades? What quandaries will be cleared up? What new ones will pop up?

Waste & Recycling News asked some of the leaders in the industry to look into their crystal balls and offer a glimpse of what may be in 2053.

The predictions, aspirations and cautions ranged from boosting the recycling rate beyond 34% to finding profitable solutions to problems and to this warning: Without more attention to quality control during processing, the pendulum could take an ugly swing backward to manufacturers using virgin material.

Steve Miller, CEO of Bulk Handling Systems, sees several trends moving forward, such as more mixing of materials, better technology to extract materials, and higher quality of extracted materials for reprocessing today’s common recyclables.

There will be less left to waste if advances in refuse-derived fuel take some big steps forward in the next four decades, he added. All eyes and many minds are on the organic fraction of the waste stream and anaerobic digestion.

Miller expects the industry to next go after materials like used paper plates, tissues and towels, and plastic films.

“[They’re] not in sufficient quantity to have a commodity value to them but when thought of as an energy source they have a high-caloric value to them and could be utilized that way,” Miller said. “When you go forward I think there will be much more work in that area.”

Contaminated paper products, which can’t be recovered as a fiber source, and other components of the light and high-energy fraction could become a refuse-derived fuel that helps utilities power plants now using coal or natural gas.

Thompson also sees more waste-to-energy facilities on the horizon and his fingers are crossed the option doesn’t deter recycling.

“Waste-to-energy needs to be thought through so it doesn’t become a reason not to recycle,” he said. “People might say, ‘Oh we don’t need to do that. We’ll just burn it.’ There are ways they can co-exist nicely and have a high functionality but it needs to be carefully designed and implemented.”

For now, the industry is stumped as to how to remove the so-called “frozen fuel” of plastic film — grocery bags, dry cleaners bags, and the clear packaging for men’s dress shirts — that gets intertwined with recyclables.

“That material is substantially more than what people think,” said Nathiel Egosi, owner and founder of RRT Design & Construction. “It’s problematic to process because it’s difficult to remove in an automatic fashion.”

Egosi expects those pesky flexible plastic packages to be sorted in some systematic way in upcoming years.

“It’s not a desirable material in bales of plastic and other types of commodities,” he said. “The whole industry is working to develop a technique to get that plastic film out.”

MRFs will evolve to process more materials and do so more economically in the next 40 years, said Bill Moore, president of the consulting firm Moore & Associates. In the 1990s, a big MRF cost $1 million to build and handled 100 tons of material a day; today, $20 million MRFs process 1,000 tons daily, he said.

“I suspect we’ll grow that with more regional facilities,” Moore said. “MRFs will continue to look like sophisticated manufacturing operations. They bring in raw materials and process it. That’s the mindset. They are manufacturers creating value out of product.”

Mick Barry, a board member of the National Recycling Coalition, is rooting for dual-stream recycling to win out over single-stream. He’s concerned about commingled recyclables causing impurity problems with the finished product and turning off buyers.

Barry, who also is a materials broker, points to China’s “Green Fence.” The crackdown on imported waste is more than a short-term awareness campaign about sub-standard scrap, Barry said. He sees it as a long-term, quality-control initiative that affects one of America’s top exports.

There is no longer a ready market in China for impure bales of plastic, paper and other recyclables from the U.S. and Europe.

“We’ve got to clean up our act,” Barry said. “The [United Kingdom] sent too much junk in with plastic and they finally cut the U.K. off. They sent a message to the world: Hey, enough is enough. Don’t dump on us and blame us for being the garbage guys of the world.”

It’s critical that all U.S. recyclers remember their bottom line is creating a raw material from a used material and not simply recovering things from the waste stream, Barry said. His message: Have some pride of ownership.

“If we don’t go back to that, we will lose our position as the primary source of materials for manufacturing product back to the virgin base,” Barry said.

Kate Krebs, a former director of the NRC, envisions a future with no waste at all.

“Waste to me is a design flaw,” she said. “If you design a product correctly, you factor in not only the form and function but end of life. That thinking is permeating through our global manufacturing side. That helps us shift. If we really got the consumer marketing going and we continue to spread end-of-life strategies to the makers of product, looking ahead 40 years we should have a much more efficient, simple system.”

EndInMind Design Launches Unique Way to Encourage Recycling

RecyclerSackOur friend Jay Edwards and his partner Sheila Arora have come up with a cool new way to encourage recycling. They have launched the new EndInMind Design website, endinminddesign.com, and their first new product, RecyclerSack(TM). RecyclerSack is geared toward collecting recyclables, away from home, in places where participation in recycling is low, such as hotels. They have blended the functionality of a plastic bag for segregating recyclables from trash, with fine art, so your recyclables have a beautiful and fashionable place to be stored while waiting for collection.

This is their first product of what is likely to be many, fine art inspired, sustainable solutions. We wish them best of luck and look forward to seeing RecyclerSacks on our next road trip.

Researchers develop method for recycling plastic with printed ink

Researchers at the University of Alicante have developed a new procedure that removes printed ink on plastic films used in flexible packaging getting a product free from ink and suitable for recycling.

Click here to read full article.

Nominations Open for Innovation in Plastics Recycling Awards

Contact: Allyson Wilson (202) 249-6623  Email: Allyson_Wilson@americanchemistry.com

Annual Honors Now Calling for Entries through October 30th

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 17, 2012) – Nominations are now open for the 2012 Awards for Innovation in Plastics Recycling. Organized by the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the annual event honors companies and individuals who have successfully brought new technologies, products and initiatives into communities and/or the marketplace.

“We know that plastics are valuable materials and should be given a second life after initial use,” said Steve Russell, Vice President of Plastics at ACC. “Honoring those who have helped to advance plastics recycling demonstrates the vibrancy of the plastics recycling industry in making innovative products, jobs and contributions to the U.S. economy.”

Last year Axion International, Inc., Nepco Industrial Company Ltd. and Trex Company were selected to receive awards.

Learn more about the annual recycling awards, including eligibility and nomination instructions.

Method Introduces Product Line with Packaging Made from Ocean Plastic

Entertainment Close-Up

October 15, 2012

Environmentally-conscious cleaning product company Method announced it is launching its latest solution in sustainable packaging bottles made from a blend of plastic recovered from the ocean and post-consumer recycled plastic.

According to a release, this limited edition packaging is for a new Method product, a two-in-one hand and dish soap, available at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide.

Method said scientists estimate that several million tons of plastic make its way into the oceans every year, polluting the environment and hurting marine populations. Through this new use of recovered ocean plastic, Method is demonstrating how a business can tackle environmental problems, and that there are smarter ways to make plastic than using virgin material. Nearly all of Method’s packaging is made from post-consumer recycled material, which helps keep additional plastic out of landfills and oceans.

Over the past year and a half, Method employees have worked with local volunteers from Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i and the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation to hand-collect several tons of plastic from the beaches of Hawai’i, where the kinds of rigid, opaque plastic needed to make this packaging are most abundant. A portion of the product’s proceeds will go to these two Hawaiian organizations as part of Method’s efforts to establish an ongoing business model and supply chain for collecting and sorting plastic marine debris.

Method noted that it partnered with recycler Envision Plastics to develop a new recycling process to make the bottles. The process allows plastics recovered from the ocean to be cleaned, blended, and then remanufactured into recycled plastic that is the same quality as virgin high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.

“Our goal with ocean plastic packaging is to show that the most viable solution to our plastic pollution problem is using the plastic that’s already on the planet. Method’s ocean plastic bottle demonstrates in the extreme that recycling is possible. By recycling and reusing plastic to make our bottles, we turn off the tap of plastic flowing into our oceans and take the first, most important step toward solving the ocean plastic problem,” said Adam Lowry, co-founder and chief greenskeeper of Method.

“Method is really demonstrating how smart business initiatives can make a big impact for our planet. We’re proud be partnering with them to raise awareness around this global issue and showcase new ways to use and reuse the plastics that are already on our earth,” said Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market.

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