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DuPont promotes recycling joint venture for both plastic polymers and paper waste.

DuPont Promotes Recycling Joint Venture For Both Plastic Polymers and Paper Waste

DuPont, one of the world's largest corporations, has launched a joint venture with Waste Management, Inc., to promote a comprehensive plastics recycling operation in the United States.

The Delaware industrial giant is also promoting more recycling of paper, including research into how to make it feasible to recycle composite materials that include polymers, pigmented inks, dyes, barrier coatings, foils, etc.

The recycling ventures were announced this spring at the Eastpack '90 trade show in New York City by Robert S. Weis, manager of plastic waste solutions for DuPont; and Paul Linsen, his counterpart in paper waste solutions. Both expressed an optimism tempered with caution.

Plastic polymers are a $6.5 billion business for DuPont, said Weis, and while there is too much negative publicity about plastics -- which may well have improved public health through better food packaging, and which don't account for more than 18% of the nation's garbage by volume -- it is clear the company has a stake in effective recycling.

Dozen Centers on Line

DuPont already has 11 plastics reclamation centers in the United States and one in Europe, he said. Moreover, it has worked to reduce the amount of raw material used in plastic containers to begin with -- a milk jug that weighed 80 grams 20 years ago weighs only 65 grams today, and that means 400 million pounds less polyethylene a year gets thrown out.

The new agreement calls for Waste Management to collect and separate plastic refuse and sell it to the joint venture. At joint venture facilities, the plastic will be sorted into various types, ground up into flakes, cleaned and sold in turn to DuPont. DuPont will combine the flaked waste with proprietary additives and modifiers to produce resins that can be used in new containers.

The initial focus will be on PET and HDPE containers, since these account for a large part of the plastic waste and have a wide variety of end-use applications. The first joint-venture recycling facilities opened in March in Philadelphia and Chicago; each will handle about 40 million pounds a year. By 1991, Weis said, the joint venture should have five sites handling a total of 200 million pounds -- and, hopefully, proving to others that such recycling operations are economically worthwhile.

Paper recycling has a much longer history; Boy Scouts used to collect papers decades ago. Even 25 years ago, the rate of recycling was 27%. But the industry has reached the point of diminishing returns. Linsen noted: "The percentage of paper recycling is already close to reaching maximum practical levels given today's technology and collecting methods."

With current technology, he said, the United States can reach a 40% paper recycling rate by 1995. Beyond that, there will have to be new technology based on "smart" materials that "perform how we want them to, when we want them to, but then through the use of chemistry and/or mechanical means can be easily and safely separated." That would apply, of course, to alot of frozen food packaging.

Paper recycling efforts in the past have centered on newsprint, corrugated boxes and the like -- the most easily recycled materials. Some trends in the paper industry are making recycling harder. Use of mineral fillers, for example, reduces the use of cellulose and bleach in production, and captures carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere. But it also creates horrendous sludge disposal problems in recycling.

Separation problems are also horrendous in packaging that uses all those sophisticated coatings, dyes and so on. Right now, Linsen said, TAPPI -- the leading pulp and paper technical association -- is working on a new definition of the "Recycle" label that would apply to packaging only if the ink can be easily deinked, the color bleached without use of chlorine, and the plastic readily separated. "If a package does not meet these criteria, it's not economically feasible to recycle by the papermaker," he declared.

Both Weis and Linsen said industry efforts are motivated, not only by the real problem of waste, but by the public perception of the problem. Even though plastic accounts for only a small proportion of the garbage, and the United States is actually planting more trees than it cuts down, the public thinks in terms of mountains of plastic refuse and clear-cut forests. But the public doesn't want to sacrifice convenience. As Linsen put it, "What the consumer wants is a package that is useful, safe and causes no environmental harm."
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Title Annotation:Food Packaging Showcase
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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