Pilot project seeks to bring multi-material pouches into recycling, reuse stream

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: June 19, 2014 12:23 pm ET
Updated: June 20, 2014 1:11 pm ET

Image By: Jim Johnson Flexible Packaging Association President Marla Donahue with one of the purple bags intended for pouches and other items not typically recycled.

Related to this story

Topics Public Policy Sustainability United States Food packaging Film & Sheet Recycling
Companies & Associations

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — There’s the blue bag for traditional recyclables and the red bag for medical waste and the black bag for regular old trash.

Now comes the purple bag, officially known as the Energy Bag.

 And it’s aimed squarely at multi-material pouches and other plastics that typically aren’t recycled.

A pilot project just starting in Citrus Heights, Calif., will help determine if there can be viable diversion away from landfills for these pouches and other plastics by using the purple bag.

Pouches, thanks to their multiple layers of different plastics and even aluminum foil, are difficult to recycle.

Capturing these multi-material pouches for recycling, said Flexible Packaging Association President Marla Donahue, is “very challenging with today’s technology.”

“Because it’s such a small percentage of the waste stream, 1.6 percent, it is very difficult to get the attention of the waste management community. It’s just a little blip on their radar screen,” she said at the recent Global Pouch Forum in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Energy Bag is out to change that through a program co-sponsored by Dow Chemical Co., trash hauler and recycler Republic Services Inc., Citrus Heights, and the Flexible Packaging Association.

A total of 27,000 households in Citrus Heights are being asked to separate their flexible packaging and hard-to-recycle plastics and place them in special purple bags distributed in the community. Those bags are to be tied and placed in with the regular recyclables to allow for easy removal once they hit Republic Services’ materials recovery facility.

“Plastics are a valuable resource and through Energy Recovery we can recover the embedded energy content. As the world’s largest provider of plastics to the packaging industry, we have a vital interest in making these materials beneficial throughout their life cycle,” said Jeff Wooster, global sustainability leader for Dow, in an email interview.

“There is no reason to continue to send plastics items that cannot be mechanically recycled to the landfill when we can recover them for energy,” he said.

The three-month pilot project, which runs through August, will see the specially captured plastics shipped off to Agilyx Corp. in Beaverton, Ore., where the material will be turned into synthetic fuel oil through a process called pyrolysis.

Multi-layer pouches gain plenty of attention for a lack of recycling, but the Energy Bag project also aims to divert items including candy wrappers, pet food bags, frozen food bags and the outer plastic wrapping for water bottle and soda packages. Items such as plastic dinnerware, plates and cups also are on the list of accepted items.

The purple Energy Bags will be collected biweekly and then sent in bulk to Agilyx.

“For us, the pilot is already a success. Collaboration is key to building a sustainable future and this is exactly what has happened here,” Wooster said in the email. “And this is just a starting point. We are learning valuable lessons with our partners that we will be able to apply in other communities.”

Image By: Jim Johnson Marla Donahue

Flexible, multi-layered pouches typically get thrown away because of their very nature and the advantages they have compared to other packaging.

Different layers of plastics and foil provide different types of protection — oxygen and moisture barriers, for instance. But those combinations also create recycling challenges.

“Each flexible package is a designer package which may have different material mixes,” Donahue explained. “And one of the big questions that some of the recycling community asks is why do we have to have these multi-material laminates?”

“Well, because they provide the best protection for certain products,” she said. “They extend the shelf life of all kinds of food products.”

And while the end-of-use package itself creates a disposal issue, the package during its useful life helps combat against the enormous problem of food waste, the trade group president explained.

The Flexible Packaging Association, for years, has been looking at what to do with multi-material laminates at the end of their use.

The group’s research, Donahue said, “has concluded that resource recovery as an end-of-life option is a good option for multi-material laminates. And as of today, pyrolysis appears to be the best form of resource recovery. I keep stressing today, because things change so quickly.”

The association is planning to produce a documentary on the pilot program as well as a “best practices report,” the association president said. ”Those will be used as learning tools for other communities and the waste management industry to set up similar programs.”

Just days after the launch of the program in Citrus Heights earlier this month, interest was strong from other communities, Donahue said.

“We have already had multiple cities in California contact us about helping them set up a similar program, so we then expect to expand the program,” she said.

Wooster, in the email interview said, “The possibilities are limitless. We can share the success of this pilot with other communities with the hope of changing the course of recycling and waste collection around the nation.”

He called the pilot program “a first step toward an important change in the way we handle waste. This pilot aims to prove that resource recovery of non-recycled plastics is a viable municipal process that can achieve many positive long-term environmental and economic results, including fewer tons of landfill trash, more local energy resources and less fossil energy dependence.”


Comments

Pilot project seeks to bring multi-material pouches into recycling, reuse stream

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: June 19, 2014 12:23 pm ET
Updated: June 20, 2014 1:11 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Getting a real feel for how 'vinyl saves lives'

March 27, 2015 6:00 am ET

While I'm certainly not shipping off to Africa anytime soon, I got a taste of what medical professionals go through in the fight against Ebola and...    More

Image

Johnson's political outlook shaped by a plastics business view

March 27, 2015 6:00 am ET

When Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) traded plastics for politics in 2010, he didn't leave his business sense behind. He carried the lessons of 30 years in ...    More

Image

Customs snafu snags Boy Machines

March 26, 2015 9:42 am ET

ORLANDO, FLA. — With apologies to poet Robert Burns, this year’s NPE in Orlando definitely proved that “sometimes the...    More

Image

NPE nudges attendees to recycle

March 24, 2015 1:47 pm ET

A public awareness campaign developed by Keep America Beautiful is receiving prominent display at NPE 2015 as part of the show's overall effort to...    More

Image

SPI launching recycling summit

March 23, 2015 5:10 pm ET

The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. announced Monday at NPE 2015 that the plastics trade association will return to Orlando in 2016 for a brand ...    More

Market Reports

Flexible Packaging Trends in North America

North America represents about 30 percent of the global consumption of flexible packaging. Annual growth in this region is forecast at 4 percent during the next 5 years.

For more insight on growth opportunities, drivers of growth and the outlook for 2015, download this report.

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

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

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

More Events