Hugh Aiken wants to prove a good idea can work, but first he has to get some help to break the color barrier. Aiken wants to be the first licensee of the process developed at the Center for Plastics Recycling Research at Rutgers University that turns commingled post-consumer plastic waste into commercially viable resin, adaptable to any process, from blow molding to thermoforming.
``I can't understand why the industry, which has gotten more interested in recycling than ever, hasn't taken this technology before,'' said Aiken, a retired businessman who founded the now-defunct plastic light-diffusion panels maker Diffusa-Lite Co.
Aiken, based in Villanova, Pa., admits the biggest problem with the technology is that the mixed-color, commingled waste comes out a deep olive green. It can be pigmented to make other colors, including black, but the addition of pigment compounds problems and expense.
Thomas Nosker, project director for the technology at Rutgers, said the material derived from the patented washing, grinding and repelletizing system displays all the properties necessary for blowing thin-walled single-layer bottles, or for constituting the core layer of multilayer containers.
``Our process presumes that the HDPE and the PET would be removed by collectors or processors, because those are materials on which they can make more money with a pure waste stream,'' Nosker said. ``The remainder of the waste would be of the other five resin types, including PVC, and traditionally don't have as much value, especially commingled. The testing we have done shows that you can blow high-quality bottles from that material.''
Nosker said the process yields resin that meets or exceeds bottle standards, as well as stress cracking requirements, and is processable on regular machinery. The material also can be used for durable goods such as truck bed liners.
But it is the color problem that may have led to a lack of interest by end users. The technology was tested in cooperation with Procter and Gamble Co. of Cincinnati.
``We tried it, and it works,'' said Tom Rattray, associate director of environmental quality for P&G. ``But when you mention color, you've hit on the problem. It is olive drab, like Army issue, and even the military couldn't buy enough bottles to make it commercial.''
Because of the color, Aiken said he is focusing on use of the resin in multilayer containers, where the olive drab color can be covered by other pigmented resins.
``That seems like the best way to go, although some end user, if he wanted to, could make the olive color a trademark for his product, if he wanted,'' he said.
Aiken also plans to make lumber and sheet from the commingled material with the Rutgers process, if he can find a partner to organize a factory. He said the factory would likely be in southeastern Pennsylvania.
``We still need the specialized processing and extrusion equipment,'' Aiken said. ``Then we can proceed to get this product out in the public.''