A pilot project to recycle flexible plastic packaging shows it is successful in proving that bags and other thin-film materials suitable for curb programs can be reused, but also identifies major economic hurdles such as an “anemic” market that must be overcome .
The plastics industry-funded Consortium Materials Recovery for the Future released a report on June 16 about its project to upgrade a recycling sorting facility in Pennsylvania to handle flexible plastic packaging such as grocery bags, chip and snack packaging, and the increasingly popular stand-up pouches.
According to the report, the pilot project at a materials recovery facility in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, was a success and may be a replicable model for other communities that will allow residents to put these difficult-to-recycle materials directly into roadside recycling bins.
However, the MRFF consortium report also found that the cost of new equipment will be several million dollars per facility and that more work is needed to support weak markets for recycled plastic sheet material and achieve long-term success.
It is said that about 12 billion pounds of flexible plastic packaging is used in the US each year, but only about 4 percent of single-unit flexible resin packaging formats are recycled.
Still, supporters said the initial results are positive.
Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Inc.’s packaging and specialty plastics businesses, said it was a “successful start”.
“With [flexible packaging] With consumption growing rapidly, it is critical that we have an innovative recycling solution to properly collect these materials, “said Wooster.” We hope this program will spark a new wave of innovative recycling solutions both in the US and around the world. “
The project spent millions of dollars upgrading TotalRecycle Inc.’s materials recycling facility operated by JP Mascaro & Sons in Birdsboro, approximately 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
It collected the film packaging it had collected, which it referred to as rFlex, and attempted to find economically viable markets for it in more than a dozen industries.
Roofing materials are the largest volume and most immediate end-market opportunity, the report says, along with uses such as pallets and railroad ties. Markets such as plastic lumber, plastic gravel and asphalt, pyrolysis for fuel products, and various durable goods were also examined.
The project said it had achieved four of its five goals within a year of installing the equipment and had made solid progress towards the fifth goal: getting 90 percent of the flexible materials out of the material stream in the recycling facility.
It has been said the most immediate benefit is getting better quality bales of paper from the recycling facility, but proponents also said they see progress in plastics.
“The strong performance results from the MRFF pilot show that it is possible to close the loop for flexible plastic films in the US with significant infrastructure investments and cross-sectoral collaboration,” said Nicole Camilleri, senior technical packaging development specialist and sustainability director at Nestle USA .
“At Nestle, we are working to meet our 2025 goal of making 100 percent of our packaging recyclable or reusable,” she said. “Strengthening the infrastructure and improving roadside access for flexible plastic sheet recycling in the US are important steps in achieving this goal.”