Environmental Innovation: Plastics Recycling and Sustainability: SPE's Global Plastics Environmental Conference 2007.
According to conference chair Mike Montpetit, GPEC's reach is becoming even more global in nature, as attendees came from as far away as Europe, Australia, Africa, and Japan. Particularly exciting, he said, is the opportunity to obtain different perspectives on the similar problems we all face--issues such as the economic viability of environmental programs, and how best to use recycled content and renewable material.
An example of the environmental-plastics industry's globalization--and successful commercialization--is Conference "Silver Sponsor" NatureWorks LLC, a company that uses renewable resources such as corn as raw materials for the starch-based polymers it markets worldwide. The company's 300-million-lb/yr facility for making PLA (polylactide) polymer, located in Blair, Nebraska, USA, is trying to increase capacity to meet the demands of the international marketplace, according to company spokesperson Dan Sawyer. Of SPE's GPEC he said, "It is great to see the growing interest in renewable-based materials and environmental practices in the industry. This Conference is a great opportunity to share and learn about new environmental practices."
The "Big Picture" of the Plastics Business
Suppliers and Converters Have Plenty on Their Minds
Plenary speaker Howard Rappaport, global business director of the polyolefins division of Chemical Market Associates, Inc. (CMAI), sketched "The Big Picture" for the plastics industry as a whole, in which he described a global market with a lot of competition. In this complex and growing marketplace, plastics suppliers and converters have a lot on their minds:
* the economics of doing business in a global economy, in particular the cost of energy, raw materials, and labor;
* the challenge of catering to an array of customers;
* environmental initiatives, stewardship, laws, and regulations;
* logistics; and
* a plethora of domestic and international laws, regulations, and taxes.
The Demand far Recycled Plastics Is Real
Recycled plastics do influence the industry's overall demand and consumption. But, said Mr. Rappaport, it is very difficult and challenging to quantify that impact in various markets. The numbers are not available; there is nowhere to go to get them. However, the influence of recycled material can be seen, particularly in China. Because the volume there is so large, it is possible to track the flow of scrap plastic into the market and actually see some of the influence.
China is the world's largest importer of scrap plastic and also the largest importer of virgin material and prime plastics. As prices for traditional virgin resins increase, there is a greater incentive to use scrap plastics, so use of recycled plastics increases too. China is finding more ways to use scrap plastic and is buying it wherever it can. Europe and North America are big suppliers.
In terms of capacity to produce base chemicals and plastics, Europe and North America accounted for 70% of worldwide capacity in 1985. But according to projections, by 2010, 78% of global production will have been relocated to other regions of the world. The new capacity for base chemicals and hydrocarbon-based plastics is being installed in the "New Gulf," i.e., the Middle East, and in China, the world's major region of economic growth.
Meanwhile, said Mr. Rappaport, the U.S. and Europe are importing larger and larger quantities of fabricated goods--goods that are made mostly in China. The U.S. trade surplus of the late 1990s transitioned into a trade deficit for all plastic materials and finished products by late 2005.
A Global Assembly Line Is Taking Shape
The "global assembly line" of commodities to converted products to retail goods--that tracks from the Middle East to Asia to the U.S.--is shaping up for the plastics business:
* commodities: the relocation of low-cost hydrocarbon capacity to the Middle East, which is exporting everywhere around the world.
* converted products: the shift of industrial production to Asia, where low-cost labor abounds and an improving standard of living, especially in China and India, has increased internal consumption. Asia is basically exporting finished goods around the world.
* retail goods: the emergence of North America, with its high consumer demand, as the major market for finished plastics goods from Asia.
Industry Players Face a Tough Road
In summary, Mr. Rappaport detailed the road ahead for North American and European producers. They face an increase of imports of finished goods and resins; cost pressure from imported goods from China, India, Vietnam, and the Middle East; and environmental initiatives that may affect regulations, technology, and consumer preferences. Fabricators are confronted with concerns about security of supplies; escalating international competition; balancing the costs of logistics, freight, packaging for shipping, and labor; determining the most cost-effective regions in which to make products; complying with environmental initiatives; and accountability to customers.
For their part, retailers spend vast sums of money on fabricated products to stock their shelves. They resist paying higher prices, and they understand the supply chain and use it to their advantage. They react to customer preferences. Many of them are implementing recycling and waste-reduction strategies. And while retailers generally do not purchase plastic pellets, some are considering buying resin and processing it through a converter to make their own finished products. For example, Ikea--a privately held, international, low-cost home-products retailer that sells modern, utilitarian furniture--already buys 70,000 tons/yr of polypropylene and processes it through injection molders in Europe.
Wasted Wealth--And an Unprecedented Opportunity
Can "Green" Provide Growth?
The sustainability movement offers an unprecedented opportunity for the plastics industry, if approached with creative and forward thinking, said Dr. Seetha Coleman-Kammula of Simply Sustain LLC, in her Conference presentation titled "Resource Productivity and Sustainable Growth." In his earlier presentation, Mr. Rappaport described how polymer production is moving from the U.S. to the "New Gulf," and how the fabrication of plastic "gizmos" has moved from the U.S. to China. "So, what is the U.S. going to do?" asked Dr. Coleman-Kammula. And the question is really: Can green provide growth? How can the plastics industry provide growth, create new jobs, and compete with other countries?
Some $15 to $20 billion worth of commodity thermoplastics is dumped into landfill sites around the U.S. every year, said Dr. Coleman-Kammula. Wealth is wasted. The U.S. is better at making waste than at making products, which does not make economic sense, nor is it ecologically sustainable.
Product Complexity Creates a Big Hurdle
The foremost problem, according to Dr. Coleman-Kammula, is "complexity creep." The way in which plastic "gizmos" are put together has, over time, become very complex, and the cost of that complexity escalates. The number of hybrid plastics and the multiplicity of grades have become too expansive, and expensive, to keep up with. Systems such as laminates, specialized films, and an infinite number of gizmos can be composed of dozens of polymers. A shoe, for example, can contain more than 40 polymers and an automobile more than 50. Complexity increases production costs and makes end-of-life (EOL) identification, separation, and recovery of plastics labor-intensive and uneconomical. Profit margins are squeezed. If plans had been incorporated into the design for EOL, complex gizmos would not have been designed, she said.
A Four-Point Business Model Outlines Sustainable Production
Imagine a future, proposes Dr. Coleman-Kammula, in which a "time value" plan plots the life cycle of the material used to make a plastic gizmo, and a "gizmo map" predetermines the path the gizmo will travel from cradle to grave.
"Time value" implies that the plastic material itself holds value far beyond the life of a particular gizmo. Consider that a very expensive step in the life cycle of a plastic gizmo is the creation of the plastic. Once made, the plastic itself continues to hold value; the gizmo does not. For example, the value of an HDPE milk bottle vanishes once the milk is consumed, whereas the plastic is still worth something.
Dr. Coleman-Kammula charted four principles for putting into practice a "time value model" for materials:
1) Sell the same pound of polymer more than once. Waste becomes wealth when a material is reused.
2) Establish a hierarchical approach to design based on polymer and product complexity. Use a single-polymer material to produce a short-lived, simple, consumable gizmo. Do not make a complex consumable or durable product from virgin plastics. Wait until somebody else has already used the plastic. For example, from the same material, make a simple, single-polymer milk bottle and recover it; make a bit more complex detergent bottle and recover it; make a still more complex toy and recover it.
3) Use an uncomplicated design for a throwaway product. For instance, design a pure, unpigmented plastic detergent bottle; apply a removable shrink-sleeve label; and recycle the valuable plastic material easily and inexpensively.
4) Set up a business-to-business "gizmo map" for transfer of materials to the next user. Design, produce, sell, reclaim, and recycle a simple gizmo, and send the recovered material along, per a prearranged business agreement, to the next user.
A Gizmo Map Guides the Life Cycle of Any Material
A gizmo map can prearrange a material's life cycle by charting what gizmos can be made from its recovered material. A manufacturer of gizmos in need of recycled polypropylene material, for example, can refer to a polypropylene gizmo map, identify a business that is a giver of recycled polypropylene, and strike a business deal. Thus the polymer is sold twice. Each partner, or participant, in the map has a consumer model linked to its business model. "The idea I present to you," said Dr. Coleman-Kammula, "is the design of a gizmo that provides for its next life. I ask you to plan a whole family of products and production of products in a different way ... and to adapt new ways of looking at sustainability, both for economic and ecological sustainability."
Conference Proceedings Available on CD
For those seeking detailed information on the most recent research and developments in renewable and biodegradable materials, processes, and other topics related to the environmental plastics industry, the proceedings of the Global Plastics Environmental Conference 2007 are available for purchase on CD. Contact SPE's Customer Relations Department at + 1 203-740-5449.
The following are among topics covered at the Conference:
* How To Structure, Finance, and Fund a Clean-Technology Venture
* Bioplastics: Technology Principles and Exemplars
* Ecobionanocomposites: A New Class of Green Materials
* Sustainable Plastics: Report Card of Leading Automakers
* Development of New Biodegradable Materials for Marine and Naval Applications
* Designing for the Environment With Compostable Materials
* Titanate and Zirconate Coupling Agents: A Key to Environmental Innovation
* Chemical Recycling of PET Wastes in Powder Form
* Recovery and Recycling in Europe
Environmental Stewardship Award Winners, 2007
Pallatheri Subramanian, Environmental Division awards chair, announced awards honoring corporations and institutions that have demonstrated environmental leadership and excellence. To qualify for a nomination, achievements must have been commercially adopted or accepted as a standard in the year 2006 and must illustrate significant leadership in promoting sound environmental practices and creating new markets that will benefit the environment.
New Technologies in Processes Award
GE Plastics: Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ Resins
GE Plastics' new Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ resins increase the useful lifetime of a PET beverage bottle from a few seconds to several years. Made via a chemical recycling process from postconsumer or postindustrial scrap PET, Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ exhibit properties very similar to those of virgin PBT (polybutylene terephthalate)-type materials, but with a significantly lower carbon footprint, according to GE. These resins can be used in a variety of engineering applications, ranging from consumer electronics to automotives.
The process used to produce Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ consumes less energy and yields less carbon dioxide than that used for traditional resins, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by at least 1.7 kg per kg of resin and saving up to 8.5 barrels of crude oil per 1000 kg of resin. If all PBT used in 2005 had been replaced with the new GE resins, an outlet for more than 562,000 metric tons/yr of PET waste would have been created, an amount equivalent to 22.5 billion bottles.
1 Lexan Lane
Mt. Vernon, IN 47620 USA
fax +1 812-831-4179
Contact: Dhaval Shah, Process
Engineer, Crystalline Performance
New Technologies in Materials Award
Cereplast, Inc.: Bio-Based Resins
Cereplast, Inc., designs and manufactures starch-based renewable plastics. The company has developed technology to produce biobased resins for use as substitutes for petroleum-based plastics, offering price stability and costs competitive with those of traditional resins. Cereplast resins can be used in all major processes, such as injection molding, thermoforming, blow molding, and extrusion.
The resins meet Biodegradable Products Institute standards for compostability (ASTM 6400 D99 and ASTM 6868) and European Bioplastics standards (EN 13432), and are fully biodegrade within 60 to 180 days in a compost facility. Independent toxicity analyses confirm that Cereplast resins return safely to nature and leave no chemical residue. The manufacturing process for products made from Cereplast bioresins takes place at a lower heat than that required for traditional plastics, further reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The resins exhibit unique performance and strength properties and can replace traditional petroleum-based resins in a range of foodservice and packaging applications.
3421-3433 West El Segundo Blvd.
Hawthorne, CA 90250 USA
fax +1 310-676-5003
Contact: Frederic Scheer,
President & CEO
New Technologies in Renewables Award
InterfaceFabric: Biobased Fabric Composting Project
InterfaceFabric, a division of Interface, Inc., teamed with Michigan State University Extension; the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, Inc.; and Shady Side Farm in Holland, Michigan, to develop a "closed loop" project to make compost from InterfaceFabric's Terratex fabrics, which are made using 100% PLA (polylactic acid) fibers. Terratex is used in the manufacture of fabric for furniture and is eligible for ReSKU, the company's pioneering textile-reclamation program.
From cutting-room scraps of Terratex PLA fabric, waste sawdust from Herman Miller's furniture-manufacturing process, and straw and poultry manure from Shady Side Farm, the project team developed a compost that is free of any toxic chemicals and is suitable as a high-quality soil amendment to be sold to local landscape companies. The team experimented with parameters such as temperature, moisture, pH, aeration, odor, and carbon and nitrogen metabolism to achieve complete degradation of the polymer. Key to the process was keeping the compost clear of any toxic chemicals via InterfaceFabric's "Dye and Chemical Protocol" during the yarn-handling stage and throughout the manufacturing process.
5300 Corporate Grove Drive, NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512 USA
fax +1 616-554-6045
Contact: Bill Foley, New Business
Design for Sustainability Award
Battelle Memorial Institute, Ohio Soybean Council and Advanced Imaging Resources LLC: Biobased Resins and Toners
Office waste paper generated from printers, copiers, and other printing processes using conventional toners is collected and processed in secondary fiber-manufacturing mills using energy-intensive and harsh chemical processes. The cellulose thus recovered is of poor quality. Battelle Memorial Institute and Advanced Image Resources, LLC (AIR), collaborated to develop and market biobased resins and toners from renewable feedstocks such as soybeans for the office-copier and printer industry. The joint effort resulted in a cost-competitive, highly marketable product that is compatible with current hardware technologies and enables environmentally friendly printing and copying processes.
Initial research for this novel toner technology was carried out by Battelle, with funding support from the Ohio Soybean Council. Development of the technology focused on creating efficiencies in the recycling process without sacrificing print quality or performance and on improving de-inking properties of the fused ink from waste copy paper, resulting in higher-quality recovered materials and a more streamlined recycling process.
Battelle Memorial Institute
505 King Avenue
Columbus, OH 43201 USA
fax + 1 614-424-7479
Contact: Bhima Vijayendram, Vice
President of Commercialization
Ohio Soybean Council
4625 Morse Rd., Suite 101
Columbus, OH 43230 USA
fax +1 614-476-9576
Contact: John Lumpe, Director
Advanced Image Resources, LLC
5910 Shiloh Road East, Suite 123
Alpharetta, GA 30005 USA
fax +1 678-527-7000
Contact: Tom Gandolfi, President
Emerging Technologies Award
Cargill, Inc.: Biobased Polyols-BiOH
In developing the BiOH family of biobased polyols for use in major urethane applications, including flexible foams (the most technically challenging), Cargill has overcome the obstacles of performance, color, odor, and consistent quality that previously prevented these biobased materials from entering key markets. Compared with petroleum-based foams, BiOH-based foams are said to offer a wider processing window, creamier hand, improved IFD consistency, improved foam-density consistency, enhanced comfort factor, better flame retardancy, superior UV stability, superior fatigue results, and a smaller environmental footprint.
Foams made with BiOH polyols make use of the same manufacturing processes and equipment as those of traditional foams, and Cargill says the preliminary life-cycle analysis of BiOH polyols indicates significant reduction in primary energy demand and in greenhouse gas emissions compared with petroleum-based polyols. Furthermore, the new foams promise to replace hazardous intermediate chemicals; reduce the use of, and dependency on, petroleum by utilizing renewable resources; diversify the industry's supply options; mitigate risks associated with the volatility of petroleum supply and price; and allow the tailoring of desired foam properties for various applications, without compromising performance requirements.
15407 McGinty Road West, MS # 69
Wayzata, MN 55391 USA
fax +1 952-742-6909
Contact: Yusuf Wazirzada, Business
Manager for Polyols Business
Enabling Technologies in Processes and Procedures Award
Argonne National Laboratory; USCAR Vehicle Recycling Partnership; and American Chemistry Council Plastics Division: ELV Recycling Technologies
To achieve greater fuel efficiency and safety, automobile manufacturers are incorporating a large share of lightweight plastic materials, which often present challenges for recycling. The Argonne National Laboratory; USCAR Vehicle Recycling Partnership; and the American Chemistry Council, Plastics Division, established a research agreement to develop new process technologies to enable the most advantageous recycling of plastics and other materials from end-of-life vehicles (ELV). While the team has focused primarily on mechanical recycling technology, technologies and processes for chemical conversion of ELV materials to fuels and chemicals are also being evaluated. Additionally, the team is developing approaches to dealing with substances of concern when present in recycled plastics and is conducting life-cycle analyses of alternative recycling technologies.
A large-scale mechanical separation pilot plant at Argonne serves as a focal point for the project, where, for example, polyolefins recovered from shredder residue have been successfully tested in mold trials for the production of automotive parts such as battery trays, knee bolsters, and steering-column covers.
The Vehicle Recycling Project; the American Chemistry Council, Plastics Division; and the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies fund this government/industry partnership.
Argonne National Laboratory
9700 South Cuss Avenue
Argonne, IL 60439 USA
fax +1 630-252-1342
Contact: Edward Daniels, Director
USCAR Vehicle Recycling Partnership
Contact: Claudia M. Duranceau,
Senior Research Recycling Engineer
Ford Motor Company
American Chemistry Council
Contact: Dr. Mike Fisher, Senior
Director, Plastics Division
Plastics Recycling Awards
* Los Angeles Fiber Co.: Recycling and Recovery of Postconsumer Carpets
Following a business model that focuses on environmental sustainability, the Los Angeles Fiber Co. developed the production process, logistics system, and sales programs to divert 100 million lbs/yr of postconsumer carpet from U.S. landfills. The company's efforts to collect, reuse, and recycle postconsumer carpet contribute to the overall supply of polypropylene, nylon 6, nylon 6,6, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) available in the marketplace. Los Angeles Fiber is said to be responsible for the recovery of approximately 72 million lbs/yr of nylon 6 and nylon 6,6; 14 million lbs/yr of PET and wool; and 10 million lbs/yr of polypropylene.
The postconsumer carpeting is collected and separated by material type; the backing is removed and face fiber cleaned; and the finished material is marketed and shipped to 11 countries worldwide. Los Angeles Fiber also operates Reliance Carpet Cushion, which manufactures a synthetic nonwoven underlay pad from 100% postconsumer carpet.
Los Angeles Fiber Company
5190 Santa Fe Avenue
Vernon, CA 90058 USA
fax +1 323-588-0424
Contact: Ron Greitzer, President
* Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc.: Composite Building Materials From Recycled PE and Wood
Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc. (AERT), develops, manufactures, and markets composite building materials made from recycled polyethylene and wood. Consisting of nearly equal amounts of wood and plastics, the advanced composites can be used as an alternative to traditional wood products for exterior applications such as decking, trim, fencing, and door and window components. AERT's decking products--marketed under the trade names of MoistureShield, Weyerhaeuser ChoiceDek, and LifeCycle--are distributed, sold, and used by major companies such as Weyerhaeuser; Lowe's Companies, Inc.; and ThermaTru Corp. AERT has received a series of patents for the technology used to manufacture wood and polyethylene composites, including one for the extruded composite material used exclusively by AERT to manufacture its high-quality building products.
In 2006, AERT's extrusion plants in Springdale, Arkansas (USA), and Junction, Texas (USA), recycled more than 125 million lbs of plastic which the company purchased from recycling programs located throughout the U.S.--and a similar amount of wood waste. Additionally, AERT works directly with businesses and other organizations to establish recycling programs.
Many door and window manufacturers and building suppliers that purchase AERT products require that the products be painted with a white primer. Coating manufacturer Akzo Nobel developed a water-base paint capable of adhering to the composite material, an effort that AERT says has resulted in avoidance of hundreds of tons of solvents that would otherwise have been emitted into the atmosphere.
Advanced Environmental Recycling
Technologies, Inc. (AERT)
P.O. Box 1237
Springdale, AR 72765 USA
fax +1 479-756-7413
Contact: Al Drinkwater, Senior Vice
Dan Eberhardt Memorial Environmental Stewardship Award
Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE): Postconsumer Carpet Recycling
The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is a nonprofit organization
committed to the recovery, reuse, and recycling of discarded postconsumer carpet. CARE's environmental stewardship, along with its efforts to build a recovery infrastructure and establish markets for recycled materials and products made from them, has evolved into the creation of a new industry centered on the recovery and reuse of postconsumer carpet. CARE has effected the recovery of vast amounts of polypropylene, nylon 6, nylon 6,6, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials that had previously been destined for landfills. Likewise, the creation of this new industry has stimulated demand for and development of equipment necessary to collect and process this valuable resource.
Since its establishment in 2002, CARE has been instrumental in reclaiming almost 500 million lbs of postconsumer carpet, putting the organization well on the way to achieving its goal of 40% diversion of all postconsumer carpet by 2012.
Carpet America Recovery Effort
730 College Drive
Dalton, GA 30720 USA
fax +1 706-428-3115
Contact: Dr. Robert Peoples, Ph.D.,