Experts in recycled polypropylene (PP), PET and HDPE discussed supply and demand, recycling technologies, infrastructure and the evolution of legislation around these materials during the WasteExpo session last Wednesday : Updates on commodities, end markets and export opportunities (part two).
Participants had a perspective on how to design and reuse plastics to create a circular economy. The session was moderated by Anne Germain, COO and Senior Vice President of Technical and Regulatory Affairs, National Waste & Recycling Association. Speakers included Sally Houghton, Deputy Executive Director, Plastic Recycling Corporation of California (PRCC); Tamsin Ettefagh, Director of Sustainability, PureCycle Technologies; and JD Lindeberg, President RRS.
Houghton opened the session by saying that California in particular has seen substantial growth in the plastic recycling markets. The non-profit organization she works for sells PET and works to improve the efficiency of the recycling system and the markets for this material.
“We bought [PET] at a loss at first to create demand and there is now a strong recycling infrastructure in California. There are six waste pickers in California who work with PET that can take most, if not all, of what’s collected in the state, and they need more, âHoughton said.
But she stressed that increasing the value of scrap is essential, as is reducing system costs. PRCC tries to reduce these costs by matching materials with reclaimers.
She then discussed networking with all the players in the system.
âWe have relationships throughout the [supply] chain. We talk about design for recyclability, and we talk to processors about how they sort and collect / operate.
California plastics recyclers and converters are finding opportunities in more than PET, HDPE and PP are also gaining ground.
Ettefagh told part of the story of PureCycle, which uses proprietary technology licensed from Procter & Gamble. The technology is a purification process to recycle waste PP into virgin grade material.
The first plant will be operational in 2022 and will produce over 100 million pounds of what PureCycle calls “UUltra-Pure Recycled Polypropylene â(UPRP) annually, although the plan is to develop a capacity of 1 billion pounds in the same year.
The recycled PP market has a huge growth opportunity, but in general, it is difficult to find enough of certain types for food grade and difficult to make it colorless, which are two challenges that technology is tackling, said Ettefagh.
âWe take any polypropylene content. We will look for other materials rather than just borders and formats beyond the bottles. We are open to ridges and bulky bins (etc.) Hope we can bring safety [to recyclers] letting them know that we can sell all the PP that is brought to us, âshe said.
With COVID-19, there has been a spike in PP take-out containers and some other packaging. There is a huge volume now, and it is in demand.
âWe all need more sourcing for consumer products companies to meet their goals. If they can’t meet their goals, I’m afraid they’ll change their content and it won’t be recyclable, âEttefagh said.
She also sees the urgency dictated by legislation to require recycled content in packaging. California lawmakers last year approved a law requiring all plastic bottles covered by the state’s container buyback program to contain, on average, at least 15% post-consumer resin as of 2022. This mandate of recycled content increases over time.
“So, we need this food grade content. We need more supply to make the economy work. I think this [early] period [of scaling] will be expensive, but it will stabilize once we increase the supply, âEttefagh predicted.
She is encouraged by a trend that some companies that make or use virgin plastics are going into recycling, noting that their engineers know the technologies and materials and their capabilities. “So I think we have a great opportunity to see [materials] evolve and facilitate consumer participation, âshe said.
Lindeberg pointed out that PP is a relatively new entry into the recycling world; it has been collected at the curb for about 10 years.
âPolypropylene has remarkable characteristics [and function] it can’t be done with other plastics, so it’s here to stay, âhe said. He told attendees that he would like to see a PP recycling commission come together and see increased investment in FRMs.
Lindeberg also addressed potential fraud around recycling and the role technology can play in mitigating it, including artificial intelligence systems, scanning technology, and blockchain applications to accurately identify and document moving materials in the system.
He gave advice to operators on how to determine which technology to bring.
âYou want to see what material you get and what price it sells for to justify whether you are investing in the technology and what technology you are investing in. So figure out how many cans you are missing each day or each week and report it to tons and what. a ton sells. You can calculate your net in a given time and determine how long it would take to pay off an investment, âhe said.
The conversation shifted to education and the need for more.
âI would love to do a study to determine the cost-benefit of education on tailings and recovery. I think it would be very positive, âsaid Lindeberg.
He pointed out that the single flow has generated good results, but contamination with this system is a problem.
âCommunities across the United States have had good education programs in place and, like magic, their contamination of single-flow materials is around 10%,â he said.
Ettefagh concluded with this message from its place in the recycling world: âWhat I have most hope for is that we as a group of packers are looking at what can be recycled. Consumer products companies are making choices based on recyclability. “