West Coast recycler Denton Plastics is moving the needle on regional polypropylene recycling and policy in Portland, Ore.
On a recent episode of Recycled Content, a podcast produced by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), board member and Denton Plastics President Nicole Janssen spoke about the work her family business has done to increase PP recycling in the area. (APR owns Plastics Recycling Update.)
Denton has been a plastics recycler and compounder for nearly 40 years and was “doing recycling even before recycling was a thing in the U.S.,” she said.
Currently, her company recycles PP, PE, PS and ABS and is known for making batches of plastics that can serve as drop-in replacements for virgin material.
“We have also been very involved in the legislation in Oregon and looking for more supply, and that’s why I’m here today,” Janssen said. “We need more polypropylene supply.”
Kara Pochiro, podcast host and APR’s vice president of communications and public affairs, noted that PP is the fastest-growing resin type and “it definitely needs to be collected.”
A recent APR survey identified 1.2 billion pounds of demand for recycled PP from just 12 brand companies, she added. Janssen said PP is a challenge to collect at the curb because there are so many types and forms it can take.
“It’s not as simple as polyethylene where you have a milk jug, and everyone is able to identify what a milk jug is and recycle it easily at the curb,” she said. “When we have been tackling the issues of polypropylene, there’s so many different sizes and shapes that can go into the bin – it’s been a hard thing for people to wrap their heads around in the recycling world.”
Because of that confusion, a great deal of PP used to be put in mixed bales and shipped overseas. But now, brands want PP, and Janssen said it’s time to “unscramble the egg of mixed bales that was created years ago.”
Denton did its part by installing a wash line, Janssen said. The line took the company three and a half years to develop, design and install due to the pandemic. Denton received a $684,000 grant from Metro, a Portland-area regional government agency, and then matched the grant for the $1.37 million project.
“The timing was right for us,” Janssen said, because at the same time she was looking to install the wash line, she was also working on a state recycling steering committee trying to pass legislation to improve recycling.
“I knew if the legislation was going to pass, we were going to have more material available in Oregon, and there were no wash lines in Oregon,” she said. “So the other factor you always think about is transportation and the cost of transportation.”
Janssen envisions a network of regional recycling systems “where the transportation is close, it can be kept within our state and remade into new products in our state.”
With the wash line installed, Janssen said Denton is now working with local materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to obtain more PP.
“There’s still a long way to go, because we can take in more, so we’re now looking all over the Pacific Northwest,” she added.
The biggest hurdle is outdated and lacking infrastructure, Janssen said, both in MRFs and on the collection side. Recycling rates in Oregon have dropped over the last decade, and many counties started restricting which materials they collected at the curb.
Janssen has been on a number of Oregon state legislative committees and work groups to advance policies to help, such as the recently enacted extended producer responsibility legislation intended to modernize Oregon’s recycling system.
“We’ll see what happens but the whole idea is supply for polypropylene is going to get boosted through this process,” Janssen said. “We want to have a list that is consistent through Oregon for all communities to be able to recycle.”
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