More than 100 people attended Erema North America’s second annual Discovery Day 2018 on Sept. 25 at its facility in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Erema and several other plastics and recycling industry experts presented trends and concerns with plastics recycling.
“The thing about ‘Discovery Day’ is there is a lot to discover with [plastics recycling],” says Martin Baumann, vice president of sales at Erema North America. “Like some of the presentations said, what can be done with recycled materials? A lot of people view recycled materials as damaged goods. It doesn’t have to be that way. Hence, let’s discover what can be done—that’s the idea of the whole concept.”
Erema invited recyclers, processors, resin suppliers, brand owners and other industry experts to its Discovery Day to hear about the state of plastics recycling and learn about innovations. The Discovery Day featured a number of speakers, including Manica Ulcnik-Krump, head of BU Recycled Resource, Intersoh Dienstleistungs GmbH, Germany; Clemens Kitzberger, business development manager application postconsumer at Erema, Austria; Michael Prochazka, head of Erema business unit Keycycle; Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of Envision Plastics; Jeffrey Zhang, Vistamaxx market developer for ExxonMobil Chemical; and John Capece, sales manager at Erema North America.
Baumann says Erema has been hosting Discovery Day events at its Austrian facility for years, but it recently started hosting the event at its U.S.-based Ipswich facility after that office expanded its test center about two years ago. He adds that interest for the event seemed to grow this year, as well, almost doubling in attendance. He says plastics recycling is a topic of growing interest for many in recycling.
“Fundamentally, I think we’re going to enter the golden age of plastics recycling,” he says. “But it’s not going to happen overnight. So, we have to build consistence behind technology. The good news is the ability to make technology to actually recycle exists. The bad news is in certain countries like in the U.S., we really like the overall infrastructure and need to do a lot of investment to create quality products. That’s not going to happen overnight. But generally speaking, interest is there.”
Plastics recycling trends
During Discovery Day, presenters noted a number of concerns and trends in plastics recycling. Manica Ulcnik-Krump of BU Recycled Resource shared a few numbers related to plastics recycling worldwide. She said in 2016, world plastics production totaled around 335 million metric tons and about half of annual plastic production was destined for single-use products. In addition, there are more than 1 million plastic bottles bought per minute in total, and only 23 percent of those bottles are recycled in the U.S. Also, about 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year, yet only 1 percent of them are returned for recycling.
To date, the European Union produces about 26 million tons of plastics waste per year. However, Ulcnik-Krump said about 28 percent of this plastics waste is being recycled while 32 percent is being landfilled in the European Union.
“We do have a problem,” Ulcnik-Krump said. “Talking about pollution in the oceans is terrible, but it’s more terrible that we’re landfilling so much material that might easily be used. The European economy is losing [about] 8 billion euros per year in potential value by failing to divert plastic wastes from landfills and returning them to the production process.”
Clemens Kitzberger of Erema highlighted some of the trends regarding postconsumer recycling. He reported that, in general, postconsumer recycling hasn’t changed much in the past two years.
“One year ago at Discovery Day, I spoke on postconsumer recycling and nothing has changed, except the China ban is active now,” he said. “But in film recycling, not too much has changed.”
He reported that about 6.5 billion pounds of film are used each year in the U.S., and most of this (if not all of this) is being sent to landfills. He said film waste is currently not accepted by U.S. material recovery facilities (MRFs).
However, Kitzberger said a large U.S. company performed a test on film recycling—it collected curbside film in the U.S. and sent it to an Erema facility in Europe to be pelletized and treated. Additives can be added in this process to ensure a better end product as well. He said the end products were pellets, which could be used to make other products such as shopping bags or bottles.
Kitzberger noted that there could be opportunities to recycle film plastics in the future—provided communities don’t implement plastic bag bans and the use of film plastics.
“If we, as a plastic industry, don’t work on this topic, politics will,” Kitzberger said. “If they do it, it’s not the best interest for us. We’re the specialists. We have to show them how to make the plastic, how to make circular economy possible. If not, it will get lost and harder for all of us.”
In addition, Jeffrey Zhang, Vistamaxx market developer at ExxonMobil Chemical, discussed how compatibilizers can be used to enhance the quality of mixed material streams and make plastics recycling more effective. He notes that his company’s Vistamaxx performance polymers enhance the recyclability of low-quality polyethylene.
Erema also highlighted some of its equipment at the event. The company focused on its RegrindPro, which debuted about five years ago. The company says it has put about 40 RegrindPro plants into operation since 2015, and it expects there to be a total of 60 of these plants in operation by the end of 2018.
Erema concluded its event with a demo of its RegrindPro. The company first showed how the RegrindPro processes HDPE, and then it showed how it processes film plastics.
“That machine is optimized for rigid materials like HDPE bottles,” Baumann says. “What we [did at Discovery Day] for a test is showing what is possible by also processing [film plastics], but it is not optimized for that.”