China's National Sword crackdown in 2018 banning imported scrap plastic has roiled the U.S. recycling industry — putting urgency to sell more material in the United States. That has led to investments in technology and more efforts to link with compounders, exhibitors and industry officials said.
"You've had more supply in the domestic market. It's pushed prices down in the market," said Zarzycki of Frontier Plastics. He said Frontier and other recyclers are investing in technological innovation. "It's pushing the need to do something with it. It makes more sense now that there's more material."
Martin Baumann, vice president of sales at recycling equipment company Erema North America Inc. of Ipswich, Mass., said the China ban is now starting to drive investments.
"There was a bit of an expectation in the beginning of the China ban that immediately, big investment plans would spring up. But the reality is, in the about a year [since it was imposed], we're seeing actually truly new plants now, where some of the investment that we've seen for the past year was just sort of expansion of existing capacities, to some degree," he said. "Now we're seeing new installations. We see a tremendous interest in PET recycling. We're not collecting enough, and we need to solve that problem eventually too."
In addition to investments by existing recycling players, Baumann said new players are getting into the sector.
"There's a tremendous movement right now. We get so many requests we almost can't keep up," he said.
Baumann agrees that the plastics recycling industry needs active participation by compounders. Historically in the United States and Canada, he said, much of the recycled plastic went into fairly simple products like plastic lumber or was shipped in bales to China.
"What we're seeing now is actually new plants springing up actually that go from wash line to pelletizing for film. And that's new. But they're just starting up now, or being requested now," Baumann said.
He thinks recyclers also need to evolve, with the help of compounders.
"Recyclers are actually material suppliers, when you really think about it. But they don't behave like material suppliers," Baumann said. "A lot of the relationship on the recycler side is one-on-one. They're more like a toll processor. 'I get some material in, I process it for you.' I sell it to my relationship. But when you think about an Exxon Mobil or a Chevron, they have a catalog, a spec, and everybody can look at that spec. They can distribute their material much more broadly. We as recyclers have to become closer to that, where we can make to spec. I see a tremendous value if more people would be going down that road."
When part designers can pull up CAD drawings and Moldflow documents and see detailed properties of specific recycled material, that would greatly spread its use, he said.
"So we need to 'level up,' and I really believe that compounding can play a key role because one of the beauties of compounding is they make spec to recipes based on the materials," Baumann said.
At the Processing Technologies International LLC booth, Sushant Jain said the new integrated extrusion systems from sheet line maker PTI and compounding machinery maker Farrel Pomini, which continuously compound material directly into sheet, can compound recycled material. Both companies are targeting packaging, automotive and industrial sheet.
PTI and Farrel Pomini both exhibited at the Cleveland trade show.
Recycling is becoming more urgent as public outrage grows over plastics in the oceans, said John Standish, director of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, in a presentation at the trade show.
"You just have to look at the news — sometimes every day it seems, certainly every week. And we see negative publicity dealing with plastics. Plastics in the ocean is the biggest one. More recently we have microplastics," Standish said. "And in the past, the pace of change impacting plastics recycling has gone at a graceful and deliberate speed. As a result of all this negative publicity, the pace of change in our industry's picking up remarkably."
Standish discussed the APR Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability, which he said is an important document for boosting true recyclability of packaging, up front, during product design.