Waste Expo: Plastics Recycling Has Room for Growth

Panelists discuss demand far outpacing supply of material.

June 16, 2011

During the 2011 Waste Expo, held May 9-12 in Dallas, attendees at a session entitled “Plastics Recycling Markets: Room for Growth” heard about how demand for many post consumer plastics grades is much greater than the supply being generated.

Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of Reidsville, N.C.-based Envision Plastics, said that polypropylene is the grade of plastic that is used the most in the world, but is recycled the least. Envision recycles high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and uses it to make post consumer resins (PRC) that are used in packaging and other products.

Ettefagh stated that even though the price for the PRC is greater than the cost of virgin material, Envision is still able to sell it.

During Ettefagh’s presentation, she pointed out how quality of feedstock is diminishing partly due to bad single stream programs, adding that exporters are not as concerned about quality. New materials coming into Material Recovery Facilities are also contributing to quality issues.

Significant new demand is being fueled by renewed “green” initiatives, corporate sustainability requirements and technologies that enhance the properties of PCR, she said.

Polypropylene is an area of growth in the plastic market, according to Ettefagh because in just two years’ time prices for it have doubled. She added that there an estimated 17 billion pounds of polypropylene in North America, while only 350 million pounds are being recycled. Much of the material is used in short-lived products, an estimated 2 billion pounds.

HDPE isn’t the only post consumer plastic that is experiencing a high level of demand. Matt Hardymon of Custom Polymers PET, Athens, Ala., told attendees at the session that his company is getting 240 customer leads a month, and the company’s supply of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) isn’t able to keep up. “We need to collect more,” he said.

He estimated that 27 percent of PET bottles are being recycled in the United States and in order to meet current demand, recycling of PET bottles needs to double.