An analysis of seven types of plastic bales — excluding PET and high density polyethylene — has found that more plastics are being recovered right now from bales of household containers and bottles, and bales of bulky rigid plastics than from the other five types of mixed-resin bales.
The bale audit survey conducted by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers also found that those two types of mixed-resin bales have the least contamination of the seven non-PET and non-HDPE bales analyzed.
“The whole intent was to determine once and for all what is in these seven types of bales ... to try and help expand plastic recycling beyond PET bottles and HDPE containers,” said Steve Alexander, APR executive director. “We wanted to gather as much information as we could as to what is in these other bales.
“Securing accurate estimates of the types, volume and destination of rigid plastic waste currently being recycled will strengthen and advance non-bottle rigid [plastics] recycling,” Alexander said. “We wanted to develop information for plastic recyclers so they can determine what is the next-best type of material or container to try and recycle.
“We want the information to help identify potential markets so recyclers can see if there is enough material in these bales for them to justify an investment in another wash line or another optical sorter,” Alexander said.
APR previously identified seven types of mixed-resin bale types: bulky rigids; household bottles and containers; pre-picked bales; small containers; tubs and lids; all rigids; and olefins. It has developed specifications for two of those seven bale types: bulky rigids and tubs and lids.
The survey found:
* In pre-picked bales — bales where material-recovery facilities first pull out PET and HDPE bottles — bulky items constitute the majority of the remaining plastic, with polyethylene being the most prevalent resin, followed by polypropylene.
* Bulky rigids account for 65 percent of the plastic items found in bulky rigid bales and are mostly made from PE and PP. Another 11 percent of those bulky rigid bales are containers and thermoformed packaging.
* Bales of household bottles and containers have 75 percent bottles, with PET being the highest resin type, followed by HDPE.
* Tubs and lid bales contain items made mostly of HDPE and PP.
* Bulky items and nursery pots are the two items found most in olefin bales, with the largest amount of items in olefin bales made from PP, then PE.
* Almost two-thirds, 64 percent, of what is found in small-container bales are containers and thermoformed packaging made from PP and PET. Another 23 percent are bottles.
* All-rigid bales are typically a combination of non-bottle containers, bulky rigid plastics, and bottles, with PE the most common resin followed by PP, PET and HDPE.
The survey examined 29 bales from 24 MRFs on the West Coast, East Coast, in the Midwest and in Canada, said APR.
The greatest impact on bale quality and composition of recovered plastics is the way MRFs sort the plastics, and how well MRFs sort the plastics, said APR.
The 77-page study contains a breakout of each type of bale, sorted by product and resin categories and shows the average percentage of each category in the bale. Its appendix includes detailed sorting data broken down both by bale type/product category and by bale type/resin. The study can be purchased from APR.