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


The Green Fence Opportunity

Recently, there has been much commentary about the “Green Fence” and one theme seems to emerge: This is an opportunity to level the playing field; an opportunity for new investments in equipment and technology. Domestically, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate policies and single stream, and it’s an opportunity to create less waste. 

Having said all that, the Green Fence is not a new initiative in the U.S.; it just has a name this time. We have had several hiccups like this before when China either pushed back economically or previous leaders enforced a law banning waste from coming into their country. Yet, each time they came back, and sometimes with a vengeance like after the 2008 crash. Months ago, there was speculation that the Green Fence program would largely diminish by this November, even though it is technically a permanent law currently being enforced. 
There is no doubt recyclable materials are now sought out and bought globally. However, it’s troubling that we rely on other countries to deal with our waste or problematic recycle materials. The objective should not only be about finding homes for hard-to-recycle materials, but also for advancing technologies to deal with these potentially available recyclable resources. It is the perfect opportunity for policy change. We need a change in some of our packaging standards to facilitate recyclability.  We realize the packaging industry hates the term “standardize,” however, how else will materials have economic value unless there is a sufficient critical mass?  
So is policy development an opportunity or is the mutual cooperation in other food products and standardization of resins to ensure sustainable recycling of packages the answer now?  For example, could the refrigerated dairy companies collaborate for their mutual benefit? Are there technical reasons all sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, and butters cannot be packaged in the same plastic with the same melt flow? There may be an initial capital outlay at the machine level or adjustments made on current machines to accept a new melt flow or poly olefin change. However, there might just be a savings to the consumers of these resins. Increasing the amount of one type of prime resin may offset capital and processing costs. 
We have an opportunity to create another value stream for how plastics get recycled. Less bad is not a solution nor is it sustainable. We need to look at areas in packaging where we can come together like the beverage companies did and see how we can create enough critical mass out of packaging. Hopefully, we will make an opportunity that is sustainable out of this Green Fence before it is gone again.
From: Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of Sales, Envision Plastics 

Sustainable Solutions at TLMI Tech Conference

Industry leaders gathered in Chicago to address one of the industry’s most pressing issues.

Industry leaders gathered at this year’s TLMI Technical Conference in Chicago to discuss – among several other topics – sustainable labeling solutions. Session Chairs Cindy White of Channeled Resources Group and Darrell Hughes of Avery Dennison Materials Group North America opened the floor to a panel of five experts with several decades of experience between them. On the panel was Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of sales and purchasing at Envison Plastics; Weilong Chiang, senior principal engineer at PepsiCo; Mitch Rackovan, principal scientist at Avery Dennison; Jeff Sherwood, technical sales representative at Flint Group Packaging and Narrow Web; and Joel Schmidt, market development manager at Outlook Group Corporation. 

Ettefagh, who has more than 26 years of experience in the areas of recycling and plastic recycling, opened the session with a presentation that examined the difficulties faced by plastic recyclers, and took a look at what label manufacturers can do to make the recycling of plastics easier. According to Ettefagh, its not only policy that drives recycling initiatives. Consumer product companies have made it a priority to have their plastic packages collected and recycled, and to incorporate recycled content into their packaging. To put the growth of recycling initiatives into perspective, Ettefagh told the audience that HDPE recycling grew from “nothing” to a half billion pounds in 1996. The need for continued research, development, and innovation is critical, she said. “There is no such thing as a plastic so good it can just be thrown out,” she said. 

Chiang has lead several sustainability projects at PepsiCo, including a recent and extensive study to identify the key features of recycling-compatible shrink labels. During the course of this study, Chiang said, he had the opportunity to visit several recyclers. At one site, he had the opportunity to see firsthand the number of contaminated bales kept in a storage yard. There were hundreds, all filled with shrink, pressure-sensitive, metalized, and other specialty labels. While his focus has been on shrink labels, Chiang drove home the point that recycling solutions for any and all materials need to be found – and the sooner, the better. Shrink labels that are compatible with PET recycling are emerging, he said, but the driving force behind progress in this field will be continued collaboration between brand owners and label converters.

Rackovan’s work at Avery Dennison has included the design of products intended to mesh with a PET container value stream through the recycling process. He was part of the team that established the Engineered Films business and the launch of Primax and FasClear film products. He also develops adhesives designed to meet the performance and cost demands in the beer and beverage markets. His presentation focused on the recycling of pressure sensitive labels. The biggest problem, he said, is that today’s pressure sensitive labels limit PET recyclability, prohibiting recyclability into food-grade rPET (due to adhesive contamination). The solution, he said, is a “switchable” pressure sensitive label which adheres to a PET bottle until the end of the cycle, where the cohesive bond is broken (at the recycler), thereby allowing the PSL facestock and adhesive to cleanly separate from the PET flake. The key market drivers for this solution, he said, are numerous. The use of rPET reduces US dependence on foreign oil and petrochemicals; the recycling industry alone employs more than 450,000 Americans and generated $10.3 billion in domestic tax revenues; and for every pound of rPET flake used, energy is reduced by 84% and greenhouse gas emission by 71%. 

Sherwood’s presentation focused on the recycling of flexographic inks. The bottom line in terms of recycling flexo inks, he said, is that there can be no staining to PET flakes. Printed labels are required to meet APR’s Guidelines for PET Thermoform Labels and Adhesives for Compatability with PET Recycling, and each label has to be evaluated and tested as a unique construction. One hurdle, he said, is that testing is expensive; costs can run up to approximately $5000 per submission. For his work in recycling flexo inks, pre-qualification testing was performed by Avery Dennison. Numerous construction combinations were tested with different inks and APR-approved substrates. The results were varied, he said, but generally paper constructions failed. Films performed far better. Constructions with an OPV or lamination performed the best. Of the colors tested, he added, yellow and black stained the PET flakes more than others. Unprotected inks – which include those printed directly on paper or on a film without a lamination or UV OPV – broke down significantly more when mixed with the caustic solution, he said. UV and water-based inks appeared to perform the same in terms of breaking down into solutions with or without the OPV or lamination. Looking towards the future of flexo ink recycling, Sherwood said some possibilities include alternative pigments (though they could be costly), alternative barriers on paper, alternative ink chemistries (including different resin systems), and solvent-based inks. 

Finally, Schmidt offered a converter’s perspective on sustainable label solutions. He outlined his customers’ sustainable label demands, which include source and waste reduction, a greater use of sustianable materials (including renewable, bio-based, and PCR), greener end-of-life options, and above all else, practicality. His customers, Schmidt said, want zero operational impact and it must be either cost-neutral or offer cost savings. He said that there are three key strategies for success: broader industry partnerships, expanded technical expertise, and extensive customer engagement. Part of this strategy, he said, is simiply to communicate the benefits of sustainability in a way that customers can readily understand. 

“Frame sustainability in the language of business and explain how your solution will impact your customers’ key business objectives,” he said.  – See more at: http://www.labelandnarrowweb.com/contents/view_online-exclusives/2013-09-08/sustainable-solutions-at-tlmi-tech-conference/#sthash.DPyCYv6Z.dpuf

Please click on the link below to hear a Podcast with our very own Tamsin Ettefagh discussing some of the many challenges of handling, marketing and processing various types of scrap plastics.

Podcast with Tamsin Ettefagh

The Truths and Myths of Degradables

Packaging Strategies Newsletter published an article written by Envision Plastics on the truths and myths of bioresins, biodegradables and oxodegradables… To read this article please click on the link below
The Truths and Myths of Degradables-Packaging Strategies

To read entire publication click here