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A barrage of news from the recycling front.

A Barrage of News From the Recycling Front

The good news in plastic recycling is that, despite setbacks like the recent cancellation of Dow Chemical Co.'s 80-million-lb/yr project with Domtar Inc., the volume of recycled resins increases daily. The bad news, however, is that plastic recycling, relative to virgin resin volume, hasn't grown much at all. Nevertheless, new recycling ventures are springing up so fast, especially in HDPE and commingled resins, that it's hard to keep count.

In 1989 recycled plastic reached 340 million lb, up from 300 million lb in '88, estimates Robert Bennett of the University of Toledo, Ohio, in a study for the Plastics Recycling Foundation, Washington, D.C. The 1989 rough number assumes recycling of about 160 million lb of PET from soda bottles, 12 million lb of PET x-ray film, 100 million lb of HDPE (including 40 million lb of basecups), 60 million lb of PP car batteries, and 10 million lb of all else (including PS and commingled plastics). Bennett expects a similar rate of growth in 1990.

However, a total of 50.74 billion lb of virgin thermoplastic resins were consumed in the U.S. in 1989, up from 48.61 billion in 1988, according to SPI figures. That means recycling rose only two ten-thousandths of a percentage point--to 0.63% of virgin resin used in 1989, up from 0.61% in 1988. Growth in recycling of beverage-bottle PET, by far the highest-value and biggest-volume recycled plastic, has declined steadily from 18.1% annual growth in 1986 to 15.3% growth in 1987 and 13.3% in 1988, says Bennett, and it may grow only 10% this year. HDPE recycling, though growing rapidly (24% in 1987, 29% in 1988), is still much smaller overall.

Franklin Associates, Prairie Village, Kan., a research group that tracks plastics recycling relative to the municipal waste stream (MWS) for the EPA, says 1% of all MWS plastics was recycled in 1986. Franklin's 1987-88 figures, to be released by EPA this month, are expected to show some growth.

Recycled resins may not be growing quickly relative to total consumption, but industry's appetite for them is--at least for high-quality recycled PET and HDPE. Supply of clean, clear recycled soft-drink and milk bottles will always remain small compared with overall resin consumption--even if one imagines hypothetically that 100% were recycled--because only about 1 billion lb/yr total goes into each use. So the higher-quality recycled resins will "track their own supply-and-demand curve," with no relation to virgin prices, says Charles Lancelot, technical manager at Rubbermaid Commercial Products Inc., Winchester, Va., a major user of recycled plastics. He notes that 25% recycling of milk jugs would be only 250 million lb and "industry would snap that up."


Wellman Inc., Shrewsbury, N.J., overwhelmingly the biggest plastics recycler in the country, has unused capacity at both its wash/grind facilities--Johnsonville, S.C., for soda bottles and Allentown, Pa., for milk jugs. "The obstacle is absolutely collection," says recycling manager Caroline Mixon. Johnsonville recycled 110 million lb of soda bottles in 1988, and has capacity for over 200 million lb. Allentown's output is "probably in the teens" of millions, Mixon says, versus 25 million lb/yr capacity.

Wellman's supply limitations are aggravated by recent quality problems at new material recycling facilities (MRF's). Mixon says that when supply came only from bottle deposit programs, it was clean, and Wellman paid a premium for ground bottles. Now, Mixon says she's "turning away suppliers with ground bottles because of contamination." One answer for Wellman is taking control of collection. In May, Wellman bought New England CRInc, N. Billerica, Mass., a private builder and operator of MRF's and long-time Wellman bottle supplier.



Major resin users have made the market for recycle by modifying machinery to use more recycled resins, adding two-and three-layer coextrusion heads, special feeding and process controls, and developing processing tricks with new additives, flow enhancers and compatibilizers. Rubbermaid Commercial Products would like to satisfy up to 10% of its total resin requirement with recycled resin in 1991, up from 1% in 1989, or about 1 million lb. In 1988 the company bought its first 50,000 lb. Rubbermaid feels that cost of machinery modifications is affordable for most producers.

Rubbermaid is commercializing additional injection molded products made of various grades of recycled HDPE, including blow molding grades. Other products will use mixed resins, compatibilized with post-industrial scrap, Lancelot says. Controlling melt flow properties of recycled milk bottles was "a problem. It was like injection molding chewing gum," he says. To make it work took "good process controls and good feeding devices. In some cases, flow enhancers may be necessary. You have to get a fractional-melt-flow resin to flow relatively easily, or it will heat up and thicken so the machinery won't be able to process it properly." At present, Rubbermaid has no plans to do its own recycling, but that could change, Lancelot says.


Another highly visible market for recycled resin was Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co.'s order to bottle suppliers to use 25% post-consumer recycle in detergent bottles. P&G associate director of packaging Thomas Rattray says the resulting three-layer bottles with recycled middle layer took only six months to develop. P&G suppliers Continental Can Co., Stamford, Conn.; Owens-Brockway, Toledo; and Plastipak Packaging Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio, targeted large bottle sizes because they could accept more recycled plastic than smaller ones. (Below 6 oz, it's hard to use more than 10% recycle, technical people say, because the virgin color layer has to be proportionately thicker. Also, processors reuse their own trim scrap, further diluting the percent of post-consumer material on a small bottle.) Rattray says, "We'd move faster if we could get more supply."


Several big resin users, not content with just buying recycled resins, are now going to produce them. Sonoco Graham, which in February announced a 20-million lb/yr HDPE recycling project in York, Pa., (see PT, April '90, p. 181), expects to open on time September 1. The company also just signed its ninth contract to produce 15%-20% recycled oil bottles. The newest contracts are for white bottles for Amoco and Citgo, to be commercial this month. Another new contract in May is for Sun Refining and Marketing Co.'s Sunoco brand (not related to Sonoco Graham) for a 20%-recycled black bottle.

Sonoco Graham says it would use a higher recycled content if it could get supply. Gerry Claes, director of environmental programs, says Sonoco Graham will buy up to 80 million lb/yr of recycle in the open market, even after the new plant opens. "We'll require 100 million lb/yr of recycle in a few years, just for oil bottles," he says.

Johnson Controls Inc., Manchester, Mich., which also announced a 20-million lb/yr recycling plant for PET bottles last Feb. in Novi, Mich., is scheduled to open in Sept.-Oct. Its wash/grind system Reko b.v., sub. of DSM of the Netherlands (PT, March '90, p. 127), produces flake. Johnson Controls is also likely to buy an extruder for pellets. Bottles for recycling will come from arrangements with Johnson's bottle customers in Michigan and the Northeast.

Johnson Controls is marketing a prototype 100%-recycled PET motor-oil bottle and other non-food bottles. The company says the prototype was injection stretch-blown on unmodified equipment, with the same cycle time as virgin resin. The company says some pending recycle applications would use only a 0.5 million lb/yr of recycled PET, while one production oil bottle could exceed the capacity of the new plant.

Even a relatively small bottle producer says it makes economic sense to produce its own recycled resins. Kurt Ruppman, president of Western Environmental Plastics Inc., Lewisville, Texas, a blow molder of HDPE and PP bottles, began processing post-consumer plastics in March. Western Environmental built its own cleaning equipment, which Ruppman says has cleaned commingled post-consumer plastic in tests since March. The line is designed to process 1000 lb/hr in a continuous process. It removes paper labels, glue, and other contaminants. Operating cost is a third that of scrubbing with hot water and chemicals, Ruppman says, and the system avoids the environmental problem of waste-water treatment after washing. Ruppman says the system will eventually be offered for license to collection centers. (CIRCLE 34)


New England CRInc may also contribute to Wellman's long-term objective of fully automated, mechanical separation. CRInc holds North American distribution rights to Bezner sortation technology from W. Germany, an automated sorting system for aluminum, steel, glass, and plastic, though separating milk jugs from PET bottles is manual. Wellman is researching four-category plastic separation in Johnsonville for HDPE milk jugs, colored HDPE, PET, and other plastic from commingled collection.


"They'll let the pioneers pioneer, and then they'll move in," says Floyd Hammer, president of Hammer's Plastic Recycling Corp., Iowa Falls, Iowa, one of the first to flow-mold commingled plastic lumber and park benches. A number of false starts and changes of program by the big resin companies shows some of the pitfalls for large companies in a rapidly changing environment. One resin company started a recent staff meeting on a recycling project with an agenda of "three false assumptions behind any recycling venture. We assume it will cost less than it really does. We assume recycled material will sell for more than it will. And if it doesn't work, we assume research will invent something to fix it."

The venture of Du Pont Co., Wilmington, Del., with Waste Management of North America Inc., Oakbrook, Ill., is the only brick-and-mortar recycling investment by a major resin company. The venture, Plastics Recycling Alliance (PRA), just opened plants in Chicago and Philadelphia in April, handling mixed plastics. Each employs about 60 people, 12 to a shift, hand-sorting off a carousel at 3500-4500 lb/hr, says general manager George Schreiber. Hand-sorting is expensive and slow, but the real problem is quality, he says. Automatic sortation will improve the quality and consistency of the product. By the end of the year, he says, PRA will rebuild the carousel, possibly into a fan shape, for automatic sorting, especially to separate PVC.

Du Pont says the two plants will produce about 10 million lb each by year end, working three shifts, five days. Annual capacity on a four-shift, seven-day basis is 40 million lb/yr each. Du Pont is sampling recycled clear HDPE, and clear and green PET for sale as resin, but ultimately plans to use all the output of both plants to upgrade into engineering compounds for injection and blow-molding, competing with ABS for automotive and construction applications. Du Pont is experimenting with compounding at a custom facility in Little Hocking, Ohio. Potential applications include recycled versions of Selar bottle resin, Bexloy reinforced-PET automotive compounds, and Rynite glass-filled PET. Eventually, the PRA plants will have extruders, but for now pelletizing is being done at Little Hocking. Du Pont/WMI's next plant is likely to be on the West Coast, says Wayne Naumowich, head of recycled resin marketing.

Du Pont Canada Inc., Mississauga, Ontario, is involved in what's probably the first curbside collection of LDPE film. With government and industry sponsorship, the program set up two collection routes in Peterborough, Ont., each with about 1500 homes, and starting in late May added flexible plastic to its Blue Box programs. "So far we collected much more than we expected," says David Climenhage, Du Pont senior technical specialist, but he says volume may not be typical because households tend to hoard plastic bags and may have cleaned closets at the start of the program. The film will be processed at Resource Plastics Corp., Brantford, Ont. (PT, June 90, p. 166).

Mobil Chemical Co.'s Film Div. in Pittsford, N.Y., launched a program that may prove one of the more practical for resin companies. Mobil is offering grocery sack recycle collection to the supermarkets where it sells sacks (PT, June 90, p. 90). The program has the advantage of allowing Mobil to recapture mostly its own LLDPE and HDPE film, with known properties and history--along with about 25% unknown film, which Mobil says isn't a problem. Mobil is shopping for a wash-grind line, possibly AKW equipment, which sells for $3.8 million with an extruder, and can process both film and rigid material.

Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., which closed the pilot plant and lab from its aborted project with Domtar Inc., Montreal (PT, May '90, p. 90), is shipping separation machinery from wTe Corp.'s Benicia, Cal., plant to Ohio. Dow and wTE, Bedford, Mass., are setting up a 500-1000 lb/hr pilot separation line in Akron, in conjunction with a local collection program. The pilot should be running in July, but Dow/wTe still isn't sure if the two-year project, which ends this year, will be continued, says project manager, James Patin. "We're also looking at very experimental approaches" to separating the heaviest materials out of the densification separation stage--meaning PS, PVC and some PET, he says. Domtar, meantime, still hasn't found a buyer for 11 million lb of commingled plastic collected for the project with Dow, but says it's studying 16 bids.


Day Products Inc.'s first plant in Bridgeport, N.J., started up in January and is now reclaiming close to 80,000 lb/day of PET bottles and HDPE basecups. "We knew we didn't have time for trial runs, so we overbuilt with three wash stations and all kinds of extras. We knew we had to turn the machinery on and have it work," recounts David Lace, v.p. of operations.

Day, owned by Philadelphia engineering firm Day & Zimmerman, is still accelerating its business plan and expects to produce at 60 million lb/yr by the end of 1990, up from 30 million lb/yr now. The company is adding an APV extruder and Gala pelletizer with Beringer screen changer in a few weeks. Then Day can sell higher-value pellets than the flake it sells now, primarily to one carpet company.

another recycler thinking about expanding is Denton Plastics Inc., in business seven years in Portland, Ore., and looking toward San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C. Denton just trademarked four blended resins based on recycle, called Enviroline: PE, PS, PP and ABS (the latter from telephones). The new resins, not yet formally announced, were developed by blending 10%-50% post-consumer resins with post-industrial resins for defined performance characteristics and guaranteed post-consumer content. (CIRCLE 35)

For six years a reclaimer of industrial and commercial waste plastics, Denton began collecting post-consumer plastics 18 months ago, through local McDonalds restaurants and "80/20" boxes (80% milk jugs/20% mixed PE). Denton processes 2.5 million lb/month, including 200,000 lb of ABS, and is increasing milk-jug collection to 80,000 lb in June, from 60,000 lb in May, says marketing v.p. Jeff Walter.

Other new ventures also target HDPE. "They're the smart ones," says Rubbermaid's Lancelot. So far, however, Midwest prices have been notably higher than elsewhere. Denton on the West Coast gets only 34-35^/lb for clear HDPE, where Eaglebrook Plastics Inc. in Chicago supposedly gets more than virgin (42-43^/lb) for the cleanest grades from processors who have to meet a commitment to use a certain amount of recycle in their products.

Louis Kay Enterprises Inc., Detroit, a glass recycler for 30 years, got into plastic recycling a year ago and expects to open its first plant this summer, with 15 million lb/yr capacity. The plastic recycling unit, called Secondary Polymers Ltd., also hopes to market a proprietary cleaning system it developed, for about $1 million. "But nobody will buy one until ours gets running," admits president Stuart Kay. (CIRCLE 36)


Thanks to wider use of SPI's identifying codes--"1" for PET, "2" for HDPE, "3" for PVC, "4" for LDPE, "5" for PP, "6" for PS, and "7" for the rest--MRF's say people now turn in all kinds of plastics, but the MRF's can only sell types 1 and 2. Polystyrene, unless washed, can't be given away, they say.

Clean PS can now be sold to Joe's Plastics Inc., Los Angeles, and Bay Polymers, Freemont, Calif., both owned by brothers Joseph and John LaFountain. Big, established West Coast recyclers (together processing over 50 million lb/yr of PET, PP, HDPE, LDPE, PS and ABS), their approach is markedly different from many of the new start-ups. "No washing," Joe says. "They bring it to us clean, and we grind it."

The 22-member Canadian Polystyrene Recycling Association, Toronto, plans to set up a PS collection center before the end of the year, but will initially have PS processed at Plastics Again, Leominster, Mass., producers of about a million lb/yr of recycled PS. CPRA chairman Michael Hyde says the group may eventually buy its own processing equipment to add onto an existing facility in Canada.

Just a few months old, Poly-Anna Plastic Products Inc., Milwaukee, is taking on some tough recycling challenges. Originally a steel scrap company, Poly-Anna brokers baled PET and milk bottles, buying from collectors and assembling truckloads for resale to big recyclers. These companies sell pellets back to Poly-Anna, which injection molds 100%-recycled products. The company uses Cumberland and Nelmor grinders to reduce industrial scrap into flake, and is constantly on the lookout for valuable scrap to grind--from used hardhats (high-molecular-weight PS) to "mink-food buckets" (5-gal white polycarbonate drums that contained meat-packing refuse used to feed commercial minks). Poly-Anna president Marty Forman says that with four employees the company handles about six truckloads (180,000 lb) a week, including grinding and brokered bales.

A market of sorts is emerging for recycled PVC, but no real volume is yet apparent. Occidental Chemical Corp., Berwyn, Pa., is paying shipping plus 6-10^/lb for baled PVC in amounts over 2000 lb in a program that began last September (PT, Nov. '89, p. 93). Robert Elcik of the company's buyback program says less than 1 million lb have been collected so far, but the pace is picking up. The first batch of flake was to be produced at two outside processors in mid-June.


One of the more ambitious mixed-plastic recycling initiatives is being tested by Knowaste Technologies Inc., Mississauga, Ontario. Knowaste has set up an elaborate system to convert dirty disposable diapers into materials for new diapers and other uses.

The program is supported by Procter & Gamble, which will collect three to four tons of dirty diapers in W. Germany, where they will be rinsed and sanitized. The mixed LDPE and PP will be removed and shipped to Superwood Ontario Ltd., Toronto, for use in plastic lumber.

The remaining wet pulp will be shipped to Sweden and the U.S. for drying. The dried pulp will then be collected in Sweden for separation of wood fiber from super-absorbant polymer (SAP) in preparation for two tests: The wood pulp will go to labs in the U.S. and Canada to see if its high-value fiber can be reused in new diapers, while the SAP will go to labs in North Carolina and Germany, to study its potential as a moisture-retaining soil additive. Knowaste is applying for process patents now. If the four-week test is fruitful, the company plans to construct a pilot plant in Ontario.

National Waste Technologies Inc., Ronkonkoma, N.Y., which opened in May (PT, Sept. '89, p. 167), set up two of its expected 30 ET-1 commingled-plastic extrusion molding machines from Belgium in March. Commingled plastic comes from municipal contracts, says v.p. Kevin Brown. Included is shrink wrap from nursery greenhouse covers and the winter covers off pleasure boats. Four workers separate PET bottles, milk jugs and PVC, which are baled and sold to Wellman and OxyChem, Brown says. What's left, including 25% dirt, paper and other contaminants, is ground and flow-molded into highway speed bumps and lumber.

Floyd Hammer of Hammer's Plastic Recycling Corp. is one of the first to have flow molded commingled-plastic lumber and park benches back in 1985. Hammer is planning eight new plants in partnership with Air Water Technology Corp., Somerville, N.J., an environmental engineering firm. Hammer's will build the proprietary equipment for the new plants. The expansion will focus on Hammer's main product--dock pilings made of flow-molded plastic on a steel core. The plastic acts like a 6-in. cushion to absorb a ship's impact against a wharf.

An investor organization known as American Plastic Recycling Group Ltd., Ionia, Mich., just purchased the assets of Processed Plastics, a four-year-old commingled-plastics molder. The plant's main extrusion molding machine, which processes a 1000 lb/hr, is a proprietary unit "rebuilt from the carcass of an old machine," says president Terrence Blakely. The company processed 2 million lb/yr of commingled plastics last year.
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Author:Schut, Jan H.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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