Las Vegas — Despite challenges that face plastic recycling markets due to low commodity pricing, Patty Moore remains optimistic.
That's because the decision to use recycled resin is not just about its cost compared to virgin resin, said the president of Moore Recycling Associates Inc., a plastics recycling consulting firm.
“I remain very confident that recycling will continue to play a major role in our waste management and recycling strategies and in our sustainable materials management strategies,” Moore said at the recent plastics summit at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. conference in Las Vegas.
Recycled resin typically, but not always, trades at a price lower than virgin resin. And with virgin resin being so inexpensive, relatively speaking, due to low oil and gas prices, that's putting pressure on the recycling markets.
But, Moore told the audience, other factors come into play when companies consider using recycled resin.
Carbon emissions are an important issue for society today, and the use of recycled resin can help in that regard.
“Recycled material greatly reduces carbon emissions when used. It's pretty dramatic. So if a company wants to reduce its carbon footprint, this is one of the ways they can do it very quickly,” she said. “Maybe not so easily, but certainly, it is a dramatic drop.”
While one factor favoring the use of recycled resin involves the air, another involves the sea.
“There is enormous pressure on marine debris issues right now. Studies have shown it's a land-based issue. It's a litter issue. That requires implementation of land-based waste management practices and these practices will not be implemented without recycling as part of them,” Moore said.
Even with these two advantages, plastics recycling is being challenged these days.
But Moore believes the industry will pull through. “I am an eternal optimist, I don't think I could be in this industry if I wasn't optimistic,” she told the crowd.
“Clearly, there's more in here than just that oil-to-virgin pricing,” she said.
Moore's colleague at Moore Recycling Associates is Nina Bellucci Butler, who is managing director of the firm. She spent part of her time focused on the maturation of film recycling efforts over the years.
Some 90 percent of the U.S. population now has access to film recycling through more than 18,000 drop-off locations.
Unlike rigid plastics, most curbside collection recycling companies turn their nose up at plastic film because it can tangle in sortation equipment. With the drop-off collection infrastructure built out to a large degree for recycled film, she said, the focus now must be on quality.
“We have plenty of access for the consumer to recycle,” Butler said. “Whether or not they are motivated to get back to retail [drop-off points] is another thing.
“Retailers across the country do accept this material. It's a very well-established system at this point,” she said.
While plastic lumber makers such as Trex Co. Inc. an Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. have provided an important outlet for recycled plastic film, another market for the material is growing, Butler said.
“We've seen more material going into the film and sheet makers over the last few years,” she said. The growth in that application is primarily coming from post-commercial sources as opposed to post-consumer collection.