A decade ago, polypropylene reclaimer KW Plastics explored reducing the amount it paid for bales to account for the contamination found in them.
“I was told ‘you can try that but it will never work,’ or ‘you’re crazy’ or ‘who do you think you are?'” recalls Stephanie Baker, director of market development at KW Plastics Recycling Division.
The yield-based payment system wasn’t meant to punish MRFs for contamination; instead, the data is shared with them so they can make adjustments to better steer material toward the correct bales.
“Ten years later, we’re still doing it,” Baker told the crowd. “So, to some of the haters that were out there, it’s working. And it’s creating better recovery for us and generating better revenue for our suppliers.”
Baker was one of four speakers during the second plenary session, entitled “Polypropylene’s Journey from Bin to Shelf,” at Plastics Recycling 2016. The session, moderated by Kara Pochiro, the communications director for the Association of Plastic Recyclers, explored the growth of PP from merely a component of a mixed-plastics bale to a sought-after commodity of its own. The other speakers were Greg Janson, CEO of QRS Recycling and RePoly LLC; Tom Frantz, director of material development at injection molder Technimark; and Steve Sikra, research and development manager at Procter & Gamble (P&G). The session followed PP downstream from sortation to consumer products manufacturing.
Janson of QRS Recycling said the rise of PP has forced a decision for MRFs using optical sorters to separate PET and PE and baling the remaining Nos. 3-7 plastics together. Now, with increased volumes of PP in the stream, some are looking to install a third optical sorter to target the resin.
It doesn’t always make financial sense to do so, he said.
Removing PP from an otherwise Nos. 3-7 bale will leave a mixed bale with little to no value and is likely destined for the landfill. If the PP bale revenue minus costs of disposing of the other mixed containers is greater than the value of a mixed-resin bale with PP in it, then do the sortation, he said. If not, then don’t.
“When I was doing this slide my kids and I were watching The Martian, and one of the phrases that keeps coming up in [that movie] is ‘let’s do the math,'” he said. “This is not an emotional decision. This is just a math problem.”
Baker, of KW Plastics, discussed her company’s specifications for post-consumer PP bales. KW finds about 5 percent to 10 percent of a bale’s weight is PET, which KW considers a contaminant that’s often landfilled because it’s mixed with other contaminants.
She also discussed the range of products KW recycled PP goes into, including storage totes and paint cans. A growing market for the company is U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved applications, including Lush brand beauty products.
Tom Frantz said his company, Technimark, became more vertically integrated through the creation of a recycling division called Wellmark Plastics Recycling, which develops recycled resins for use in injection-molded products. It handles more than 60 million pounds per year, mostly PP but with some PS.
Leveraging that vertical integration has helped the company lower raw material costs, which make up about 50 percent to 70 percent of the cost of an injection-molded product, he said.
“Being able to offer (customers) lower-cost raw materials by using recycled materials is something we view as a significant benefit,” he said.
The vertical integration also helps ensure a stable long-term supply and more consistent pricing for materials. Some Technimark customers want to use post-consumer resin, but they want the same quality as virgin plastic and they don’t want to pay more for it.
Sikra, from P&G, said consumer products companies do want post-consumer PP in their products and packaging. P&G currently uses about 550,000 tons of virgin PP each year, but it continues to look for recycled PP that meets the company’s specifications.
“Consumers really drive everything that we do,” he said. “They want to be environmentally conscious. They don’t want to pay for it. It’s our job to help make that decision easy for them.”
His company has set goals of doubling use of recycled resin by 2020 and ensuring 90 percent of products are either recycled or programs are in place creating the ability to recycle them. The company is actively working to boost recycled PP usage.
“We’ve got a long way,” he said, “but in this supply-and-demand equation, I just want to testify, along with my other brand owners in the audience, we are supplying that demand.”
Photos: (Top to bottom) Kara Pochiro of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, Greg Janson of QRS Recycling, Stephanie Baker of KW Plastics Recycling Division, Tom Frantz of Technimark and Steve Sikra of Procter & Gamble participate in the second plenary session, “Polypropylene’s Journey from Bin to Shelf,” at Plastics Recycling 2016 in New Orleans.