Paper Recycling Conference: Problem-Solving

Drink cartons, waxed OCC, PLA plastic journeying toward a recycling future.

July 23, 2010
Recycling Today Staff
Plastics Paper

Once recyclers label something as a “problem material,” it can be difficult to shake that reputation. Attendees of a session at the 2010 Paper Recycling Conference, however, heard from presenters who are involved with reversing the reputations of several such materials.

Jeff Fielkow of Tetra-Pak Inc. and the Carton Recycling Council ( says the Council believes it has a “scalable strategy” that can bring laminated and layered beverage cartons, including aseptic packaging, into the material recovery facility (MRF) recycling stream.

Fielkow says the Carton Recycling Council has been working to bolster end markets for the material (these can include tissue mills for the fiber portion and industrial strapping makers for the polymer portion) and to communicate with MRF operators on best practices in recovering cartons from a mixed collection stream.

He said the Council has been successful in adding cartons to more programs, focusing initially on the Eastern United States. Its goal is to move from an estimated 20 percent household carton recycling access rate now to 50 percent by 2014.

Enviro-Log Inc., Fitzgerald, Ga., has been turning waxed corrugated boxes into a desirable feedstock for its product. Enviro-Log shreds and compresses scrap wax-coated boxes to make fireplace logs that benefit from the presence of the wax.

The company’s 100-percent recycled content product now has the capacity to consume 20 million tons of waxed old corrugated containers (OCC), according to Sam Miller, the company’s vice president of recycling.

Enviro-Log has secured closed-loop arrangements with several major retailers, including Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Meijer, to pick up their scrap waxed boxes as a backhaul material and deliver Enviro-Logs back as a retail product. “Enviro-Log takes a product that was destined to the landfill and manufactures it into a consumer product that is better than the item it replaces—wood,” stated Miller.

MRF operators have long decried the contamination potential and the lack of end markets for PLA (poly-lactic acid) plastic. Mike Centers, executive director of BioCor LLC ( says his company’s mission is to solve the second part of that problem.

Among the criticisms recyclers have been telling makers of PLA, said Centers, is “This product is replacing PET, a product I can sell, and—given that it looks like PET—it is a potential contaminant or yield loss to PET re-claimers/converters.”

Centers said BioCor is attempting to help make PLA more readily identifiable to sorters by petitioning to be able to use a No. 10 stamped code when making PLA bottles, cups or trays.

BioCor is being funded by PLA manufacturers and customers to “execute with the recycling industry, a roadmap to handle innovative packaging that, judging by industry growth, presents a compelling alternative to traditional packaging materials,” he remarked.

BioCor has contracted to ship materials to Wisconsin-based Plarco Inc., which uses a hydrolysis method to convert the scrap back to lactic acid that can be sold to PLA product manufacturers.

Presenter Leigh Peters, an environmental engineer with the City of Chicago, provided an overview of the Windy City’s efforts to implement recycling collection service at multi-family dwellings.

A solid waste audit conducted by the city showed that 26 percent of what was going to transfer stations and landfills was generated at commercial establishments and multi-unit dwellings, and that 45 percent of that stream consisted of paper. “More than 200,000 tons of paper is still land-filled by the private sector [in Chicago],” said Peters. She said office paper comprises 64 percent of that total.

The city conducted a pilot program in its 46th Ward to collect at multi-unit residential buildings, and saw its landfill diversion rate at those buildings soar from 4 percent to 30 percent, said Peters.

A toolkit developed by the city to share what it learned from the pilot program is available at

The 2010 Paper Recycling Conference was held June 13-15 at the Chicago Marriott Magnificent Mile in that city’s downtown.