eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Highlights from the 2010 Plastics Recycling Conference

Posted by Luke on March 4, 2010

Here are some of the key take-aways from the conference held in Austin this past week:

  • The public’s lack of affection for plastic will likely continue to get worse if products can’t be recycled.  Recycling is the easiest thing consumers can do to feel like they are making a difference.  Municipalities, recyclers, and manufacturers need to make recycling easier for consumers.
  • Single-stream recycling has a slight impact on contamination rates, but single stream is essential for making recycling easy for consumers and for increasing the recycling rate.  Most MRFs are switching to single-stream.
  • Recyclers will need to find ways to recycle the current unrecyclable.  This could occur through the following: (1) better recycling technology, (2) investment in recycling, (3) government advocacy and legislation, (4) consumer education, and (5) a continued market demand for recycled materials.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will likely continue to grow; this will make packaging manufacturers more responsible for the end life of their products
  • Contamination and quality of reclaimed materials (i.e. bottles) is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.  Recyclers are paying more money for lower quality reclaimed materials.  That makes it harder for them to sell recycled resins at competitive prices.
  • There is a growing problem of manufacturers mislabeling plastic products as #1 when they actually aren’t.  Since I’m actively involved in the compostable products industry, this was interesting for me to learn about considering the composting industry struggles with mislabeled products as well.
  • Recycling non-bottle rigid plastic containers is an issue we MUST overcome.  The issue isn’t that there isn’t a demand for those materials after they are reclaimed.  In general, manufacturers want to use recycled resins and there is pent up demand for them.  The issue is getting non-bottle rigid plastics through the reclaimation system.  This can be done through the ways listed in bullet #3 above.
  • Since China buys so much of our reclaimed materials, and the quality they demand is lower than what US recyclers demand, there isn’t as much incentive for US-based collectors to maintain high-quality standards because they can easily ship the stuff overseas.  Overall, this impacts the entire recycling value chain and market.
  • Change is looming for the #1-7 recycling codes.  The ASTM is working on it, but they also have to get all of the states to adopt the new codes (when finalized) into their statutes.  This will hopefully help with the #7 “Other” issue as well as classifying bioplastics properly.
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