News / Sustainability

Working to Make Rigid Recycling Convenient

Manufacturer of flexible and specialty rigid packaging helps to fuel recycling efforts.

April 16, 2014
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Residents of James City County, Va., and three other Virginia municipalities will join the ranks of other progressive counties that are making accommodations for residents to include rigid plastics in their curbside pickup for recycling. Starting in July 2014, residents will be able to include plastics like yogurt cups and grocery store clam shells, among other plastic containers in their recycling bins.

VP and general manager of Printpack Rigid, Jamie Clark has been very passionate about the sustainability of rigid plastics. One of Printpack’s U.S.-based rigid plants is located within James City County, Va., the county in which Jamie also lives. As an officer of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) and the chairman of the affiliated Rigid Plastics Packaging Group (RPPG), Jamie helped support a study on rigid plastics recovery within the county.

The Virginia Public Service Authority (VPPSA) which manages curbside collection for the four municipalities led the initiative with support from Printpack and RPPG. The study showed when households were asked to recycle all of their rigid plastics, the entire quantity of recyclables went up by 20 percent with polypropylene and non-bottle PET making up the majority of the increase. PET bottles which are already included in the program also saw a substantial bump. Both polypropylene and PET are highly recyclable and valuable to the industry. In addition, there was no significant increase in non-recyclable materials.

According to the company, national recycling statistics show a trend in improvements in the recovery stream for rigid plastics. Non-bottle rigid plastic recovery has increased threefold since 2007 to 2011 from 325,440,000 lbs to 933,927,245 lbs. In addition, the ratio of materials staying in Canada and the U.S. as opposed to shipping to other countries has increased from 37 percent to 61 percent, which is higher than aluminum and paper.

When collection of all rigid plastics for recovery had originally been put on the table for discussion with VPPSA, it was reluctant. The market for mixed plastic seemed to be centered overseas, and it wanted to be certain that if the material was collected, it would actually be recycled. Traditionally, the only plastic material it accepted was PET bottles and HDPE jugs with necks.

As the project progressed, VPPSA put its contract for collection out to bid. It did not include all rigid plastics in the RFQ, because it feared that there was not enough economic incentive to collect the material. What worried the authority was the fear that it might even see cost increases if it included all rigids.

After extensive research on this matter, Jamie Clark ensured the VPPSA that the domestic market was developing to handle this type of recovery. “The expanded recycling won’t cost the localities more nor require a change in the regional contract. There is enough market for the materials that contractors seem to be looking for more of this mixed plastic to buy.” Clark further states, “The scale of manufacturing in China shows the level of polypropylene consumed is three to four times of that in the U.S. We should not be surprised that Asia has high demand for this raw material. This is a good thing.”

A meeting was held in January of 2014 with Printpack executives and representatives from the Society of the Plastics Industry, the Southeast Recycling Development Council, County Waste, the MRF (the company that won the bid substantially reducing VPPSA’s cost), and James City County’s Economic Development and General Services Departments.

“The meeting was targeted to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to expand plastics recycling locally,” says Clark. County Waste came in with the attitude of, ‘We’re ready to do it; we’re already doing it elsewhere, so let’s roll. County Waste clearly understood that maximizing collection and recycling of all rigid plastics was profitable.

James City County Economic Development Group was instrumental in aligning the parties and moving this initiative forward. Clark adds, “there is good reason that Forbes Magazine ranked Virginia the best state for Business in 2013.”

Citizens of the county can expect a simple procedure of simply separating out their plastics in a separate bin to be picked up with regular waste disposal. With local industries and citizens at large aligned, this no cost solution to aid in the recovery of plastics is projected to be a hit in this community.

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