Web tool helps grocers recycle rigid plastics

Mike Verespej

Published: October 3, 2012 6:00 am ET

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Topics Packaging, Sustainability, Materials, Recycling, Suppliers

WASHINGTON (Oct. 3, 11:55 a.m. ET) — New online tools designed to help grocery stores recycle more of the large bulky rigid plastic containers used in the backrooms of their deli, bakery and seafood departments are now available on a new website created by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

“Many grocery chains have excellent recycling programs already in place,” said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “Our new program makes it easy for grocers to ... strengthen their sustainability efforts by recycling more of the plastics they use every day.”

The free online tools include a how-to-guide, worksheets to evaluate potential cost savings and revenue, three educational videos, technical assistance, and training materials that can be customized. There are available at www.recyclegroceryplastics.org

Two successful six-month pilot programs — the second one completed in April — have the industry optimistic that it can capture more of that material, which is estimated to be 354 million pounds annually just among medium and large supermarket chains.

The Recycle Grocery Rigid Plastics initiative — partially funded by the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council — could become yet another way to collect polypropylene and high density polyethylene, and provide more material to recyclers scrambling to meet the increasing demand for recycled resins.

Because many stores already have programs that recycle cardboard and plastic film, expanding those programs to also include plastic containers could be a logical extension, said APR, whose members have more than 90 percent of the post-consumer plastic processing capacity in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The project will be unveiled Oct. 4 at the Sustainability Summit in Washington, put on jointly by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The pilot programs in the Northeast — done at some of the stores of the Stop & Shop Supermarket and Hannaford Supermarkets grocery chains — collected items such as rectangular fish containers, large pharmaceutical stock bottles used to fill individual prescriptions, floral bins and containers, large frosting pails, oyster buckets, salad bar containers, and butter cream and doughnut glaze buckets that are used behind the scenes in grocery stores.

The pilot programs found that the grocery chains both saved disposal costs and were able to sell the material that was collected. In addition, it found that stacking containers by size also sorted them by resin type.

About half the containers are PP and about half are HDPE.

Both chains are exploring implementation of full-scale programs to collect plastic containers at all of their locations, said APR.

“Recycling plastic containers clearly plays a role in our zero waste strategy,” said Christine Gallagher, manager of corporate responsibility for Ahold USA, which owns Stop & Shop. “Throwing away recyclables is like throwing away money. Waste diversion programs like this can generate cost savings by reducing trash volume. Our stores end up paying less to have their trash removed because there is less to throw away.”

“Hannaford has a long tradition of stewardship,” said George Parmenter, manager of sustainability for Hannaford Supermarkets. “Recycling rigid plastic containers is an important part of Hannaford’s efforts to move toward zero waste and to reduce our carbon footprint, This work hits that sustainability sweet spot, where what’s good for business meets what’s good for the planet.”

In addition, FMI and GMA are eager “to engage grocers to do this on a large scale over the next two to three years,” said Ted Brown, owner and partner in Portland, Maine-based Brown Sustainability Solutions Inc., when he discussed the pilot programs that he managed for APR earlier this year. “There is a lot of material, and grocers are interested in the potential opportunity to aggressively collect it.”

Brown said 20 items represent 80 percent of the materials.

The three educational videos can be accessed at these links.

Grocery Recycling Makes Sense: youtu.be/RdmCDagWs4M

Grocery Recycling Made Easy: youtu.be/wDvePjEmZYo

Grocery Recycling – Completing the Cycle: youtu.be/mb2E0BVjex8.


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Web tool helps grocers recycle rigid plastics

Mike Verespej

Published: October 3, 2012 6:00 am ET

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