Portland, Ore. — A pilot project in the Pacific Northwest is out to show that secondary sorting could prove to be an economic way to capture additional plastics from the recycling stream, items not initially recovered at material recovery facilities.
Managed by the Plastics Industry Association, this secondary sorting project in Portland diverts materials already run through a handful of area MRFs. Instead of going to landfills, the material is reprocessed at a separate MRF designed to capture even more material.
MRFs essentially are designed to capture PET and high density polyethylene bottles, but there is plenty of other material that has value flowing through the equipment, said Rob Flores, vice president of sustainability at Berry Global Group Inc.
That Evansville, Ind.-based plastics processor is one of several funding sponsors of the effort officially called the Pacific Northwest Secondary Sorting Demonstration Project.
Instead of adding additional equipment to each MRF to capture more plastics, the pilot project instead is out to prove that a secondary sortation at a completely different facility is cost-effective.
"If we look at the recycling infrastructure today, there's hundreds of MRFs around the country. To retrofit all those with additional equipment for additional sorting would be very expensive and not very practical and not very feasible," Flores said.
On Nov. 21, the Plastics Industry Association released results of the 60-day pilot project. Materials recovered in this study included PE, mixed paper, cartons, polypropylene, polystyrene, and PET bottles and thermoformed packaging.
According to the trade group, the results suggest that a regional secondary sorting MRF sized to serve the populations of both Oregon and Washington would:
• Increase material recovery or landfill diversion by more than 100 million pounds per year, equivalent to 2,500 semitrailer truckloads of recovered materials bound for recycling facilities.
• Increase the recovery rate by 3 percent to 6 percent without significant program changes or investments.
• Generate 46 jobs per secondary MRF.
• Reduce the generation of greenhouse gases by more than 130,000 tons per year, which is the equivalent to taking more than 27,600 cars off the road.
• Enable future expansion of the accepted materials list without needing to retrofit primary MRFs.
• Provide accountability for all collected recyclable materials and eliminate the risk of potential mismanagement and pollution.
"Our biggest takeaway following this pilot program is that a secondary sorting facility model is a viable option to help meet the ever-increasing demand for recycled materials," said Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the trade group.
"Our hope is to prove this program out so other municipalities can adopt this," said Amy Waterman, a spokeswoman for Berry.
Other sponsors include American Chemistry Council, Americas Styrenics, Carton Council, LyondellBasell, Milliken and Metro, the regional government in the Portland area.
Titus MRF Services of Concord, Calif., oversaw creation of the temporary, secondary facility in warehouse space.
"While top-producing primary MRFs can recover close to 90 percent of the recycled materials from the waste stream, we'd like to see that number increase in the coming years," Scott Farling, vice president of business development and research at Titus MRF Services, said in a news release. "This project allowed us to dig deeper to recover what remains: the low-volume and difficult-to- manually-sort materials along with machine yield losses."