A trade group representing post-consumer plastic recyclers is ramping up efforts to improve film reclamation, further expanding its reach in the process.
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers has been increasingly active in the film recycling arena in recent years, but has taken the added step of bringing on a new, dedicated employee to further those efforts.
Hiring Sandi Childs to direct its flexible films recovery work is an important step for the relatively small, but growing trade group that has been broadening its scope in recent years.
“It's a natural evolution in terms of APR of where we've been and what we've been doing,” said APR Executive Director Steve Alexander. “Up until seven, eight years ago, we were PET and high-density bottles.”
But the vision of the group has grown over time to include other types of post-consumer plastics, including non-bottle rigids, such as those generated at grocery stores.
APR is increasing work regarding plastic films at a time when use of the material continues to grow.
“It became very clear to us when we dipped our toe in this water three or four years ago, most of our reclaimers deal with film in one way or another,” Alexander said. “We are the voice of plastics recycling, so it's incumbent upon us to make sure we address as many markets as we can.”
APR used existing resources to address the film market for a while, Alexander said, but “it reached a point where we really need to put the focus on it and resource it appropriately.”
And that's where Childs, who has had a long career in plastics recycling, comes in.
Childs, who has worked for Coca-Cola Recycling, the National Association for PET Container Resources, and PET bottle maker Southeastern Container Inc., sees APR's role being collaborative with others also working to improve film recycling.
American Chemistry Council, for example, created the Flexible Film Recycling Group to bring companies together to help improve PE film recycling rates.
And then there's the Wrap Recycling Action Program, a public education effort to promote plastic film packaging recycling, that's supported by FFRG members, APR and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
Increased use of plastic film is causing problems for material recovery facilities these days as some equipment is not designed to process that material effectively. The film ends up jamming sortation equipment, causing production delays as workers have to shut down processing lines to cut away film that gets tangled.
“We don't want film to be the bad guy. We won't want people saying ‘Throw away your grocery bags. Throw away your film because you can't put it in your [recycling] cart,” Childs said. “But we don't want them to put it in their cart either.”
So that's where APR sees itself coming in to help be a part of the process to find a solution while keeping its membership's best interests in mind.
There's plenty of used plastic film out there to be recycled. And there's plenty of demand for that used film. It's just a matter of creating effective collection and processing programs to bring the two sides together.
“It's not a question of the supply in terms of the material that is out there. It's a question of developing the infrastructure. We want to make sure we're part of that process,” Alexander said. “And we think we're a key part of that process moving forward.”
Childs said the “demand for the material is really strong. The question, as it is with so many of the plastics is growing the supply and growing clean supply for a variety of end uses. I think another big motivator is there are more and more companies gearing up to use this material as a raw material.”
Again, Alexander said, his group has no desire to tackle the issue in a vacuum. “Everybody is taking a piece of the puzzle and leveraging resources. I'm excited about where we're going here in terms of the market,” he said.
But, he also warned, “This is going to take time.”
APR's Film Reclamation Committee now has more than 20 company members interested in addressing the matter.
“We know the market is there. We know the film is there. What's the best way to go about this?” he said.
ACC reported earlier this year that post-consumer plastic film packaging recycling jumped 11 percent year-over-year to hit 1.14 billion pounds in 2013. That's the highest annual collection total since the trade group started surveying collection a decade ago.
“This is the next big thing,” Alexander said.