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a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘recycled products’ Category

Should We Be Proud of a 28% Recycling Rate?

Posted by Luke on November 1, 2010

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) just released their report of 2009 PET bottle recycling.  The report proclaims that the U.S. recycling rate for PET bottles has reached an all-time high of 28%.  In the days following the release of the report, there seems to be excitement in the industry about this so-called accomplishment.  Is this really something we should be proud of?

By being happy about only recycling 28% of water bottles, we are saying we are okay with throwing away the other 72%.  As a society, that’s pathetic.  Let’s see how this stat looks if we use other examples…

  • I’m proud that I ate 28% of my food and threw the other 72% into the garbage
  • I’m proud that I opened the windows 28% of the time and used the air conditioner the other 72%
  • I’m proud that I threw away 28% of the garbage I took camping with me and dispersed the other 72% as litter

Suddenly, 28% doesn’t look so good.

This isn’t meant to be a slam on recyclers.  Other than a few of the big players in the trash industry, most recyclers are low-profit businesses, so I can’t totally blame them for not helping to drive this number higher.  They make money from selling reclaimed materials, so I know they’d like to capture more recyclables.  The root issue falls on the shoulders of other parties, and here are some of the reasons:

  1. Consumers aren’t educated about how and what to recycle. I understand how it can be hard to figure out if odd-shaped containers are recyclable, but doesn’t everyone know that PET bottles (water bottles, soda bottles, etc.) are recyclable?
  2. Consumers don’t have access to recycling. Curbside programs are pretty ubiquitous.  Public-area recycling is shockingly still problematic.  It should be against the law to have a trash can without a recycle bin next to it (maybe when I run for President).
  3. Manufacturers aren’t demanding enough reclaimed materials from recyclers. The economics simply aren’t good enough to cause manufacturers to tip from using virgin resources to recycled.  It’s unfortunate.
  4. Legislation isn’t supportive enough. Tipping fees at landfills are cheaper in most states than recycling fees.  Until the government mandates higher tipping fees on landfills, waste haulers will never be incentivized to recycle vs landfill.  The UK has done it right by making this change through a tax.

Sure, 28% is better than last year and the year before, but let’s not be complacent.  There’s a long way to go.

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Posted in bottles, Landiflls, litter, manufacturing, plastics, recycled products, recycling, RPET, trash | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Boat Made Out of Bottles

Posted by Luke on May 9, 2010

Most people have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It’s estimated to be twice the size the state of Texas comprised mainly of plastic litter.   Scientists estimate that 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year from ingesting or getting entangled with plastic.

Not as many people have heard about what a group called The Plastiki is doing to bring attention to the problem of marine litter as well as to recycling.  A group of people got together and built a boat out of 12,000 plastic bottles to sail from San Francisco to Sydney.  Right now they are halfway through their journey near the Line Islands in the middle of the Pacific.  Their website has a really cool feature to track their every move.

What I like about the group’s approach is that they recognize plastics have both upsides and downsides.  They acknowledge that plastic has a place in the world.  However, they want to bring attention to importance of recycling plastic and the need to make products (like boats) out of recycled materials.  One of the people behind the sea vessel, David de Rothschild, said, “Plastic is an amazing material and it is still misunderstood. I’m trying to get people to think about plastic as part of the solution.”

Less than 25% of the plastic bottles used in the U.S. end up being recycled.  That’s the crux of the problem.  Manufacturers have the capability to and are willing to make products out of recycled plastics.  One of the biggest obstacles is accessing high quality reclaimed materials.  With a dismal national recycling rate and increasing contamination in the recycling process, it’s difficult to make products from recycled materials.

Another challenge is that the recycling infrastructure is currently only setup to primarily recycle #1 and #2 bottles.  All other containers (those big plastic containers that lettuce comes in, yogurt containers, and much more) are largely not recycled in the majority of recycling facilities even if people put them in the blue bin.  The technology is not widespread enough to recycle those products into a  quality stream of recovered materials.  There isn’t enough market demand for them either.  That’s why it’s important to “buy recycled.”  It builds demand for recycled materials which encourages further recycling.

In the coming year, I’ll be working with some industry groups on understanding how we can solve this problem.  Eco-Products has also launched a new product line of cups and containers made from up to 100% recycled bottles which further promotes the importance of buying recycled.

Posted in bottles, containers, cups, Eco-Products, plastics, recycled products, recycling | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Green” Shopping Continues to Thrive

Posted by Luke on April 3, 2010

I remember 5 or so years ago when people told me that “this green thing” was just a trend that won’t last.  After battling a brutal recession and seeing oil drop from $145 to $36 per barrel in a few short months (oil seems to be a temperature gauge for a lot of peoples’ greenness), green shopping continues to thrive.

A new report just released by Mintel indicated that 35% of U.S. consumers would pay more for environmentally-friendly products.  Another study by Green Seal indicated that 4 out of 5 people are still buying green products and services which sometimes cost more.  A third study, although a year old at this point, indicated that “green features – that is, that a product is recyclable and energy efficient – are more important than the brand name being considered.”

Let me re-type that to make sure we all see it… “green features are more important than the brand name being considered.”  Wow, that is a big deal.  The proof is in the pudding.  Green shoppers are loyal to their values and would rather an environmental feature over a brand name product.  As a marketer, I like those loyal green customers.

My verdict:  “Green” is here to stay.

Posted in marketing, recycled products, trends | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in China, event, Landiflls, recycled products, recycling, RPET | Leave a Comment »

A Breakthrough in Cup Innovation

Posted by Luke on February 14, 2010

I want to take a minute to share a pretty big innovation Eco-Products just announced.  We successfully developed a line of a clear plastic cups made from 50% post-consumer bottles – more than two times the amount of recycled content of any cup on the market.  It’s been challenging to find the right level of post-consumer plastic while still balancing quality and price, but we think we did it. 

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins who is known for their sustainability efforts is one of our launch partners.  Forbes, Recycling Today, and some other noteworthy sources picked up the press release about New Belgium and Eco-Products.

Posted in foodservice, manufacturing, recycled products, RPET | Leave a Comment »

Recycling and the Economy

Posted by Luke on February 5, 2010

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers held a webinar yesterday titled “Understanding the recycling industry’s current and potential role in supporting manufacturing.” 

Although waste diversion will continue to be important, the management and reproduction of diverted materials is becoming a bigger and bigger issue.  Between the 1980’s and 1990s, the number of curbside recycling programs grew from 500 to over 9000.  At the time, the U.S. manufacturing base was not setup to process all of the recycled materials and turn them into usable products.  As a result, China ended up saving our recycling programs because they bought a majority of the recycled materials.  Without China, it’s possible that our country’s recycling programs would not be where they are today. 

China is still a big purchaser of recycled materials – over 50% of all recycled PET bottles are shipped across the Pacific.  If we want to truly have a viable recycling economy, we need to drive U.S. manufacturers and legislators to focus on producing finished goods using post-consumer recycled materials. 

You can download the full webinar presentation slides here.

Posted in China, event, Landiflls, manufacturing, recycled products, RPET | Leave a Comment »

Which is more environmentally sound: recycled content or compostable?

Posted by Luke on January 23, 2010

There was a great article in a recent Resource Recycling issue that evaluates the pros and cons of recycled content vs renewable/compostable.  This is a growing debate with foodservice operators and one that will surely continue for some time.  With the growth of both products made from recycled content and products made from renewable resources, restaurant owners now have a couple of great alternatives to petroleum-based products based on their waste management systems. 

Benefits of renewable-resource based compostable products:

When looking at the life cycle analyses of bioplastic resin such as NatureWorks Ingeo PLA, there’s no question that PLA releases fewer greenhouse gases during production than its petrochemical counterparts like PET.  There’s also the key benefits of being produced from plants instead of oil and its ability to be turned back into dirt if disposed of properly in a commercial composting facility.  Some argue that PLA takes away from our food source, but I have never been able to agree them.  The corn used to produce PLA is grain corn, not the type of corn we eat on the table.  And if the NatureWorks factory was at full capacity, which it isn’t, it would only consume .1% of the nation’s grain corn.  Another argument anti-PLA people use is that PLA is made from GMO corn, which it is.  Although I’m not a fan of GMO myself, I’d much rather use a GMO plant to produce a plastic cup than use oil imported from who knows where.

Benefits of recycled content:

Recycled content creates an interesting alternative and one that I believe is a 2nd best option to renewable resource-based products.  Making cups from recycled content supports the recycling market which, ideally, in turn will build demand for more recycled products and more recycling.  Building the demand for recycled products is important because if recyclers can’t find a channel to sell their recovered materials, they’ll be less likely to collect certain types of materials and will ultimately drive up the price for recycled content.

So between the two – recycled content and renewable/compostable – we now have two great options outside of virgin petrochemical-based products.  What’s great about these options is that people can choose what works best for them.  If they have access to a composting facility, renewable/compostable products are the most environmental choice.  If they don’t have access to such a facility, recycled content products are a good alternative.

Posted in biodegradable, compostable, compostable products, foodservice, packaging, recycled products, renewable resources, RPET | Leave a Comment »

A Match Made in… Recycling?

Posted by Luke on January 12, 2010

I came across an interesting new business today – RecycleMatch.  This innovative new company is trying to become the ebay of recycling by matching suppliers of hard to recycle materials with buyers.  Suppliers could be any business looking to get rid of hard to recycle stuff.  Buyers can search through listings and then apparently bid on the materials.  It seems like RecycleMatch makes a profit when it matches a company, but it’s still a little unclear.  If anyone has had success using RecycleMatch, please let me know.  I ‘d love to learn how the service worked for you.

Posted in recycled products | Leave a Comment »

 
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