CHICAGO — The plastics market has a good story to tell where recycling is concerned. The challenging part is getting that story heard.
Recycling pros from Hilex Poly Co. LLC, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and Erema Plastics Recycling Systems told their sides of that story Oct. 1 at the 2014 Global Plastics Summit in Chicago.
The recent ban on plastic bags signed into law in California was on the minds of many attendees. But bag laws “won't reduce litter or waste, and are not smart environmental policy,” according to Mark Daniels, senior vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for Hilex Poly in Hartsville, S.C.
Daniels also cited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data that shows that plastic shopping bags make up only 0.4 percent of the U.S. municipal waste stream. Hilex and other firms have done their part to encourage bag recycling by collecting one billion pounds of bags and film annually from 40,000 recycling bins they've placed nationwide with their retail partners.
Hilex ranked as North America's 17th-largest film and sheet maker in a recent Plastics News industry ranking, with annual related sales estimated at $540 million. In 2013, Hilex achieved a recycled content rate of 34.3 percent in its products.
Grocers in California spent $3 million to help pass that state's bag ban, Daniels said. But that's a small price to pay, since they'll rake in as much as $400 million by charging fees for paper bags and thick plastic bags, he explained.
Daniels also warned that the California bag ban could be “the tip of the spear,” potentially leading to bans of other plastic products such as water bottles or EPS products.
Getting the recycling message out also is a challenge for Kim Holmes at SPI, where she serves as senior director of recycling initiatives. At the event, Holmes said that the industry needs better recycling data, pointing out that recent EPA data on U.S. plastics recycling didn't include automotive recycling, durable goods, post-industrial and several other categories.
The industry also needs to emphasize that plastic recycling can be a profitable industry in order to attract private investors, she added. Moving beyond mechanical recycling to use pyrolysis and other recycling methods also will boost the industry's cause, Holmes said.
“The needle is moving, and communities are expanding the materials they accept for recycling,” she said. “Recycling creates jobs and supports manufacturing. New feedstreams continue to be explored, and there are major pushes underway to improve collection infrastructure.”
Erema will be there to support recycling growth with new equipment that can increase output by 30 percent and, as a result, increase return on investment, according to CEO Mike Horrocks.
“Materials are getting more complicated, so we need to specialize,” he said at the event. “We're seeing more post-consumer material and different types of film and trim.”
Some Erema equipment also now can provide recycling and compounding both in a single step, Horrocks added.