PPRCE 2017: Plastic faces scrutiny

PPRCE 2017: Plastic faces scrutiny

An anti-plastic packaging sentiment is growing, and recyclers may need to help combat it.

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November 15, 2017
Brian Taylor
Conferences & Events Plastics

Non-governmental organizations around the world are sending a message that the best way to control plastic litter is to cut back on the use of plastic packaging. That growing sentiment could ultimately mean there is less material available to plastic recyclers, according to presenters at the 2017 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Europe event, held in Warsaw in early November.

Mike Baxter of United Kingdom-based RPC bpi Group urged attendees from around the world to begin paying more attention to the media’s coverage of plastic’s role in the environment. He characterized such coverage in the U.K. as largely alarmist in tone.

More than 90 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have created an alliance housed at www.breakfreefromplastic.org that aims to hold corporate boards of directors responsible for using plastic packaging that creates litter on land or in the world’s oceans, he said.

Baxter said trade associations throughout Europe have been “making regular visits” to national and EU legislators, “but we can’t leave it only to the trade associations.” CEOs and other executives must get involved, he said, “We’re in the firing line” he said of all participants in the plastics industry.

Baxter’s call to action included a reminder to plastics recyclers that the material’s lightweight properties save fuel or energy in almost all of its applications, often making it “the best environmental option,” a message he said needs to be made to policymakers.

While also noting that critics, including some corporate CEOs, have been bashing plastic, Edward Kosior of London-based Nextek said his firm has been involved in several projects intended to increase Europe’s and the world’s plastic recycling rate.

Kosior said many of plastic’s recyclability projects stem from product design that incorporates not only multiple materials (such as tiny metal springs or paper labels) but also multiple layers of plastic that can be nearly impossible to separate.

He said Nextek has been involved in one major project involving multination consumer brand Procter & Gamble, which he described as “a new type of [plastic] recycling that hasn’t been tried before.” The PureCycle project in Ohio in the United States has been designed to increase the recycling of polypropylene (PP) packaging. The process uses a solvent to accomplish recycling “at the molecular level.”

Adrian Haworth of United Kingdom-based Recycling Technologies said his firm is offering a new option in the form of being able to take highly mixed and even contaminated plastic scrap and converting it into Plaxx, a low-sulfur oil product.

The pyrolysis process that creates Plaxx takes in “shredded mixed plastics” as its feedstock, although Haworth said highly recyclable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is unwanted, as is PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

Thus, he said, much of the plastic scrap that is considered the “negative sort” at a materials recovery facility (MRF) “can now have a value chain [and] becomes an extra stream out of the MRF.”

Recycling Technologies has been operating a small plant in Swindon, U.K., but it plans to have a larger plant running in Scotland by the end of 2018. That unit will be located “at the back end of a MRF,” said Haworth, “to be fed the dry, shredded plastic.”

The 2017 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Europe, organized by the Recycling Today Media Group, was Nov. 7-8 at the Hilton Warsaw Hotel & Convention Centre.