When it comes to plastics recycling in the United States, we’re just scratching the surface for some of the major grades of commodity resins, such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Panelists addressed some of the challenges and opportunities associated with the recycling of PET, HDPE (high-density polyehtylene) and LDPE at the session titled “The Future is Plastics” at the 2012 Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show, Monday, Oct. 15.
According to Phil Rozenski, director of sustainability for Hilex Poly, headquartered in Hartsville, S.C., the U.S. recycling rate for polyethylene films and bags as well as for stretch film is only 15 percent, though he added that plastic retail bags are commonly reused. When the reuse rate is added to the recycling rate, this accounted for 75 percent of the bags produced, he added.
Hilex Poly is a manufacturer of plastic bag and film products that also operates its own recycling plant. The company is primarily focused on HDPE film products, however, Rozenski said most of the bags Hilex Poly produces are made out of a blend of HDPE and LDPE. The company accepts mixed bales of these materials for recycling at its plant in North Vernon, Ind. The plant is capable of recycling 20 million pounds of bags and film per year, he added.
Rozenski said Hilex Poly was well on its way to meeting its goal of using 40 percent recycled content in the bags it manufactures. However, he said that supply remained an issue in light of the poor recovery rate. He added that receipts are among the most predominant contaminant in plastic bag bales.
David Bender, CEO of Perpetual Recycling Solutions, Richmond, Ind., also was on the panel. Perpetual Recycling’s Indiana facility is expected to produce more than 110,000 pounds of recycled PET flake per year. The material has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food-contact packaging.
Regarding bale quality, Bender said 10 to 15 percent of a typical bale produced from curbside collections is garbage. Additionally, a number of other plastics can be found in a PET bottle bale, he said. Bender also pointed out that full-shrink-wrap labels cause a number of issue for recyclers and cannot be recycled economically in the U.S. because removing these labels from bottles is too labor intensive.
To increase the amount of PET recovered for recycling, Bender said thermoform collection must be encouraged by curbside recycling programs. He added that recycled PET (rPET) capacity will exceed supply by early 2013, making the collection of thermoforms and the import of material from Latin America more important.
Hamilton Wen of Newport CH International, Orange, Calif., said that a strong domestic market for recycled plastics can help to define quality, while overseas outlets help to keep everyone competitive.
He added that quality continues to by the No. 1 challenge for recyclers.
The Paper Recycling Conference was Oct. 14-16 at the Marriott Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago.