Much of the plastic scrap the United States sends to China comes in the form of mixed plastic bales shipped from material recovery facilities (MRFs), which are then further sorted and processed in China.
Speaking to attendees of the 2013 China National Resources Recycling Association (CRRA) International Recycling Conference & Exhibition in early September, U.S.-based consultant Patricia Moore said that while 85 percent of the single-resin bales made in the United States remain in North America, 81 percent of the mixed plastic bales head offshore, primarily to China.
The launch of Operation Green Fence by China’s government in February 2013 has caused serious interruptions to the flow of mixed plastic bales shipped to China, as customs inspectors are wary of accepting shipments that, to them, look like a combination of mixed materials that can be mistaken for garbage.
Moore, who is CEO of Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, Calif., says that as a consultant she has analyzed mixed plastic bales and has seen loads with “not a lot of consistency and [with] a lot of contamination.”
She said, however, that MRF operators have been responding to Green Fence throughout 2013. “Efforts are underway to sort mixed bale commodities that domestic markets can use and are clean enough to be exported to China,” Moore commented.
She told attendees she “applauds” the Green Fence effort and that it has helped promote the distribution of mixed plastic bale specifications created by the Association of PostConsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR).
Those specifications include four types of mixed rigid plastic bales, all designed to be produced after a positive sort process at a MRF:
- All Rigid Plastic (mixed postconsumer materials);
- Pre-Picked (mixed with PET and HDPE bottles removed);
- Tubs & Lids (PP, HDPE and LDPE containers, such as yogurt cups and margarine tubs); and
- Bulky Rigids (HDPE and PP buckets, pails and crates).
The “positive sort” aspect of the new specifications is important, added Moore. “Positive sort means that the plastic is pulled off of a sort line to be included into the bale,” she said. “This is different from the common practice, before Green Fence, of a negative sort, which is pulling contamination off of the sort line and baling up all that material that ends up coming off of the sort line. Positively sorted plastic is generally much cleaner than negatively sorted plastic.”
The CRRA 2013 China International Recycling Conference & Exhibition was Sept. 3-5 at the SanLi New Century Grand Hotel in Hangzhou, China.