This isn't Mrs. Voskamp's 11th grade academic English class, but plastic recyclers could be put to the test soon enough if a new grading scale being proposed for reclaimed PET gains traction.
The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) is working closely with the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers to establish the scale that would assign letter grades based on the amount of PET that's actually in bales shipped to reprocessors.
Bale quality has been a long-time and growing problem for reprocessors, who are seeing the level of PET actually in the bales drop over time.
The good news is there are only four grades in the proposed, voluntary standards. The bad news is there's still an F.
Bales containing at least 94 percent PET would receive an A grade while those 72 percent and below would fail.
“These are voluntary gradings,” said Kate Eagles, program director for NAPCOR. “They are just to be used as a market guide. They don't take the place of buyer-seller agreements and relationships.”
But, she said, they provide “a shared industry standard and a way to measure more specifically than has been there in the past.”
The new approach, which has the support of Washington-based APR, calls for audits of incoming loads to determine how much PET is contained by percentage. That percentage then can be used to quantify the quality of the material.
“I think it's a good idea,” said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “It all depends on how the market is going to respond, but clearly the contamination level for a lot of recyclers has gone up quite a bit in the last couple of years.”
Aside from A's and F's, the proposed grading scale also would award B and C grades, depending on the PET percentages.
Work to develop the grading scale has been taking place since the summer of 2013, and much has gone into the effort, Eagles said. “This is all a process. We didn't have this discussion all in one day.”
That work included a decision that four grading levels seems to be just the right amount. “We started out with more and we found that it was just too specific. We wanted it to be useful, but we wanted it to not to be so specific that you start to bog down,” Eagles said. And fewer than four just did not seem to be enough.
“This brings some specifics around it and brings a little more standardization to the marketplace and common language,” Eagles said. “Again, it's voluntary, but we're hoping that once it gets out there, people will start looking at it, using it, talking about it.”
APR is going to take the next month or so to study the details before considering placement of the grading scale into its model bale specifications that the PET recycling industry looks to for guidance.
APR's Technical Committee and its full board have to officially approve the idea before it can be put into place.
“They really are the holders of those and the public face of those,” Eagles said about APR's existing bale specifications. “This would add a grading element to that moving forward.”
“Let's see how the market responds, but I think it's a good step forward. It's a necessary step forward,” Alexander said.
Florence, Ky.-based NAPCOR decided to grade PET bale fractions instead of yield for a practical reason.
Different plastic reclaimers use different systems that ultimately could impact the yield — the amount of recycled material available for reuse at the end of the recovery process. Measuring the PET percentage prior to processing eliminates that variability.
“We hope to really get a dialogue stared with the industry using this,” Eagles said. “We're excited to get it out there and start taking with others.”