More of our recycling report card

By Don Loepp

Published: May 2, 2014 11:35 am ET
Updated: May 2, 2014 11:38 am ET

Image By: Rich Williams

The first half of my recycling report card averaged a solid B. But you didn’t think that I was going to let everyone off that easy, did you?

Automotive plastics recycling: D

Most automotive recycling is still aimed at the more valuable materials — metals. There have been promising signs for plastics — last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a ruling that could help metal recyclers handle more plastic fluff without worrying about low levels of polychlorinated biphenyl contamination.

But progress for plastics has been slow. We haven’t seen much at all in North America beyond pilot recycling programs and small-scale projects. As the plastic content in cars increases — thanks to aggressive targets for fuel economy — I’m looking for a lot more activity on the recycling side.

Chemical recycling technologies: D

I’m afraid the internet has given new life to what we call chemical recycling — processes that convert waste plastic into chemicals or oil. You’ve seen the videos — contraptions where plastic goes in one end and liquid out the other. The assumption is the liquid can be used as fuel, or as a feedstock to make new products (including plastics).

But what’s the point? If you’re trying to make new plastic, conventional mechanical recycling is more efficient. Sortation systems are available to handle most of the so-called “hard-to-recycle” plastics. And if you’re trying to create fuel, why are you adding energy to a process when you could just burn the plastic?

Polystyrene recycling: C-

OK, that sounds like a low grade, but that’s actually a huge improvement from a few years ago.

In the early 1990s, virgin PS suppliers made a huge commitment to recycling, setting a goal of recovering 25 percent of post-consumer food service and packaging by 1995. They spent $70 million on the effort (including public relations), but it fizzled.

Now, once again, PS recycling is taking tentative steps forward. Sure, it’s a response to product bans, in California, New York City and elsewhere. This time, the recycling business model appears to be sustainable.

Plastics processors: C-

Processors of all types are used to using recycled materials. Many seek it out, whether for cost savings, a sustainability advantage or because it’s what customers want.

But remember this: Consumers want to recycle more plastic. Recyclers have the capacity to handle more. All they need is more consistent demand.

On design-for-recycling issues, there’s been progress, and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers is doing a great job raising awareness of the issue. But products like shrink-sleeve labels are proof that recyclers still face challenges that could easily be avoided.

So I’ll give processors a passing grade this year. But don’t expect a gold star.

Maybe next year.

Loepp is editor of Plastics News.


More of our recycling report card

By Don Loepp

Published: May 2, 2014 11:35 am ET
Updated: May 2, 2014 11:38 am ET

Post Your Comments

Back to story

More stories


Toasting the best and worst of 2014

December 17, 2014 6:00 am ET

The plastics industry offered some amusing distractions too, but maybe you were too busy actually working to notice. That's OK, we keep track. Ladies ...    More


Plastimagen highlights Mexican success

December 12, 2014 11:28 am ET

The dust has settled. The exhibitors and public have gone home. But Plastimagen México 2014, the 19th edition of the show first held in the Mexican...    More

Market Reports

Flexible Packaging Trends in North America

Our latest RESEARCH report examines trends in FLEXIBLE PACKAGING impacting the North American market including a review of economic conditions, key drivers of growth, materials pricing, M&A activity, sustainability challenges and the outlook for 2015.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 billion plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

October 27, 2015 - October 29, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - New York - 2015

More Events