Conference Explores Creating Reliable Recycling Supply Chain

Optimism reigned at the latest Plastics Recycling Conference in New Orleans.

More than 1600 members of the plastics recycling industry headed to New Orleans for the Plastics Recycling 2016 conference in March. While at this event last year the focus was on the difficulties of the market and competition from virgin prices, this year there was more optimism all around. As one sign, Houston-based plastics recycler Avangard Innovative announced it will invest $10 million to build a new 35,000-ft2 plant that will convert post-consumer LDPE packaging film into PCR that will be used to produce more film.

It reportedly will be one of the first recycling facilities to utilize optical sorting to prepare the film blend for extrusion. The plant will be fully operational by October with a total capacity of 48 million lb/yr. 

Also speaking at the conference was Nina Goodrich, dir. of Green Blue and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) in Charlottesville Va. She discussed a new initiative between SPC and The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Va., that seeks to map barriers and opportunities within the recycling landscape, then identify tactics to advance the industry and deliver more high-quality recyclables to the supply chain. The initiative, called Applying Systems Thinking to Recycling (ASTRX), will focus on how packaging flows through each of the five elements of recycling: end markets, reprocessing, sortation, collection, and consumer engagement. Goodrich also discussed SPC’s How2Recycle Label program, which just launched a new online, automated platform (see blog at short.ptonline.com/label). 

Another conference session featured brand owners discussing the strong demand for PCR. For skin-care products maker Burt’s Bees, Durham, N.C., sustainability is part of its advertising to consumers—from the product itself to the packaging. Its primary package contains on average 34% PCR content; its plastic bottles average 71% PCR; and its secondary packaging averages 36% PCR. Robert Combs, sr. packaging design engineer, said the company has a goal to increase PCR content by 40% and is working to get there by increasing PCR in new product launches and making improvements to existing packaging.

The company recently produced a mostly brown PP package with 60% PCR. The beauty industry typically shies away from packages of that color, but Combs said the product is a sales success and the package has won several awards. “Getting PCR in a flagship product is a big deal. It’s been running for six months now with no issues,” he noted. “This will help drive use of more PCR.”

Derrick Lawrence, dir. of packaging development at Seventh Generation, Burlington, Vt., a producer of household, baby-care, and feminine- care products, said that company’s 2020 goal is for all its products and packaging to be made of bio-based or recycled materials. At present, the company has achieved 80% of that goal. “We want to create a source component to be recycled or composted, and in every study we’ve done, PCR beats them all across the board,” he stated. “We’re trying to create a market for PCR material, as we don’t want that material to go into the landfill. If PCR doesn’t work then we look at bio-based.” 

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