Recycling’s Here to Stay, And We’re Ready to Report on It

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Plastics Technology will increase coverage of this developing industry.

I’ve been in the business of plastics journalism for 28 years now, and during all that time have heard the term “recycling” bandied about the industry. At first, most defined it as reuse of industrial scrap; then, as post-consumer streams were established, the term became more encompassing to include sorting, cleaning, reconditioning, and reprocessing a previously used plastics article into a new one.

During this evolution, it seemed that the business of recycling was always subjected to the vagaries of one thing or another, or more likely the confluence of various issues. These include the price of recycled material vs. virgin, poor availability of post-consumer reclaim due to the shortage of curbside pick-up programs, poor material quality, and the reluctance of processors to include post-consumer recycled materials in their products—usually due to some combination of price and performance, a pretty deadly one-two combination.

As a result, recyclers came and went, and sometimes took with them the seriousness with which the industry treated the subject.

Well, those days are over. Recycling is here to stay. That’s because brand owners, big-box retailers, and OEMs want it to be. And it’s here to stay because more and more processors are realizing it’s the right thing to do. Someone with a long history in packaging once told me, “Waste is a necessary evil.” No more. Some processors have even invested millions to create their own infrastructure to collect, sort, clean, and reprocess materials. Take, for example, the Bag-2-Bag program initiated a few years ago by merchandise-bag maker Hilex Poly (now Novalex).

According to data compiled by The American Chemistry Council, plastics recycling is a growing industry in the U.S., with nearly 18,000 companies involved in the business of handling and reclaiming post-consumer plastic. The most recent numbers compiled by the group reveal that Americans recycled more than 5.3 billion lb of plastics in 2011.

At Plastics Technology, we’ve responded to this growth by increasing our editorial coverage of recycling. Look no further than our March and June NPE2015 pre-show and post-show issues, when we published multi-page feature stories on the latest recycling equipment technology unveiled at the show—and there was lots of it. Moving forward, our newest editor, Heather Caliendo, will have recycling as one of her “beats,” and her reporting will extend beyond show coverage. Next year, as part of the monthly series of processor profiles we call On-Site, we’ll focus on recyclers in addition to molders, extruders, thermoformers, and compounders.

And with this issue, we’re introducing a new column, “Recycling Know How,” which will be authored on a quarterly basis by Kim Holmes, director of Recycling & Diversion at the Society of the Plastics Industry . Key among the SPI’s missions, it should be noted, is pursuit of “zero-waste strategies” in plastics.

We look forward to serving this market with renewed vigor.