Dozens of speakers from several business sectors shared insights into commodity markets during Recycling Today’s 2020 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference International (PPRCi), which wrapped up Oct. 22 Here are some highlights from the three-day broadcast event.
The first day of the conference kicked off with a keynote from Houston-based Waste Management’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Morris. From improving recyclability to increasing automation, Morris and Recycling Today Editor DeAnne Toto covered a wide range of topics. Their conversation continued after his keynote with a live Q&A that included questions from the audience.
“I think the workforce of the future is going to look different, and it’s actually changing pretty rapidly right now. If you look at some of the investments we’ve made, in places like Salt Lake and Los Angeles and Chicago, those recycling facilities look much different than the traditional recycling facility,” Morris said while answering questions from attendees. “A lot of it has to do with technology and advanced sorting equipment. As a company, and as an industry, we were reliant on manual sorting 10-15 years ago. You can clearly see an advancement toward more of a mechanized, automated process.”
Following Morris’ interview, several other strong sessions rounded out the first day of PPRCi. Closing the Circle discussed ways to improve recycling and manufacturing. Then, speakers on a session titled Improving the Recycling Supply Chain offered their takes on how to better connect stakeholders in the recycling supply chain.
The first day of PPRCi wrapped up with a series of interviews and a roundtable discussion titled Putting Advancements in MRF Technology to Work. Panelists and speakers talked about technologies they are applying at their material recovery facilities (MRFs) as well as the technologies they see helping in the future.
The second day of PPRCi kicked off with a 2021 economic outlook provided by Robert Dye, a chief economist with Comerica Bank. Following his presentation, speakers and panelists discussed regulatory changes across the globe in a session titled Global Markets: The Changing Regulatory Landscape.
After that session, PPRCi speakers presented on postconsumer resin (PCR) demand in a session titled Rising to Meet PCR Demand.
Day two of the conference concluded with a session titled The Outlook for OCC, which featured interviews with an analyst and an executive at WestRock as well as a roundtable discussion with representatives from a MRF operator and global paper mill companies. The roundtable was moderated by Moore & Associates President Bill Moore and included panelists Smurfit Kappa Recycling’s European Vusiness Coordinator Michel Willems; Waste Management Recycling’s Director of Commodity Sales Shawn Logan; and DS Smith’s Head of Strategic Development & Business Transformation – Europe Mathew Prosser. That roundtable featured discussions on topics from containerboard capacity to global markets and e-commerce.
Logan of Waste Management talked about changes to residential single-stream recycling programs and how that has affected collection of old corrugated containers (OCC).
“The work from home has led to growth in residential single-stream,” Logan said during the panel discussion. “The retreat of brick and mortar, we’re looking at things like campaigns that we can aim toward the public that will encourage discipline at home in an attempt to increase recycling rate, discipline being an important factor.”
He added that Waste Management switched from using 18-gallon bins for its residential customers to 96-gallon carts, which helped improve recycling rates and collection of OCC. However, he noted, even if OCC collection improves, solid end markets are needed for that material.
He said, “At the end of the day, if we don’t push the industry to create demand for our recycled content, this is all for naught.”
The third day of PPRCi featured content on various topics related to paper and plastics recycling. The day started with two roundtable discussions. The first roundtable offered paper mill buyers’ input on recovered fiber trends. The second roundtable featured plastic scrap consumers who provided their input on trends with plastics recycling.
Following the two roundtable discussions, Designing Products & Packaging for Recovery featured three speakers that talked about design for recycling initiatives and evolving attitudes regarding recycled content. Afterward, speakers presented their thoughts on the work being done to develop domestic markets for recovered paper and plastics in a session titled Accelerating Growth of Domestic Markets.
PPRCi finished with a session on recovered fiber pulp and mixed paper markets where Moore presented on developments in recycled pulp capacity, while a recycler also offered his input on mixed paper demand.
During Moore’s presentation, he talked about global markets for recycled pulp as well as pricing trends for mixed paper, which can be used in part to make recycled pulp, he said. He reported that mixed paper prices declined steeply in the past decade, but those prices are inching upward this year.
“You can see coming out of the Great Recession in 2008-09, mixed paper had a slump. It came out of that rapidly to get to $127 by the second half of 2011 when China was a heavy buyer,” Moore said during his presentation. “China’s buying of mixed continued steadily until 2016 and 2017, and buying prices jumped. Beyond 2017, China's ban kicked in. It was negative prices in 2019. We had a small rebound in half of 2020. Since July, we’ve gotten back to the 2018 number. But noteworthy is the trendline, which is decidedly down.”
Ahead of PPRCi, Recycling Today also hosted its MRF Operations Forum, a one-day event featuring content on MRF management. The one-day event featured sessions on robotics, optical sorters, maintenance and more.
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