November 25, 2022


AMI Plastics World Expo 2022: Exploring solutions to capture more plastics

Plastics industry experts gathered at the 2022 AMI Plastics World Expo in Cleveland on Nov. 9-10 to address growing industrywide supply concerns and to offer solutions for capturing more material as brands look to meet recycled-content goals.

“From my perspective, there’s unlimited demand right now from the brands—the problem is extracting that from the communities across the country,” said Clark Dinnison, head of product at Replenysh, a California-based community collection network. “That’s where we’re laser-focused at this point.”

Dinnison said one of the major challenges in terms of plastics recovery is the varying programs from community to community. He added that Replenysh is working on standardization and increasing visibility into the supply chain for brands and recyclers to gain a better understanding of the material that’s available.

Ian Montgomery, founder and creative director of Guacamole Airplane, a Sausalito, California-based packaging design consultancy, said investments have been made into material innovation—particularly within flexible plastics—but the focus on presenting packaging as sustainable to consumers has led to misaligned goals.

“We’ve had frustrations with clients who want to, for example, use molded fiber instead of other materials, even though it’s a much radically higher carbon and water footprint, because they like the texture that feels sustainable to the client,” he said. “So, there is some of that that goes on, [and] for most, it’s consumer-driven.”

“The idea of recycled content has changed from a vehicle to reduce cost to a vehicle to meet customer demand and bring the brand and their products closer to the consumer,” added Robert Render, business development manager for sustainability at Ravago Recycling Group, a division of Luxembourg-based Ravago.

Render said Ravago is focusing on expanding its offering of postconsumer materials to include what he called a “masterbatch,” giving customers the recycled content they need while combining it with virgin material and additives to get the desired properties, too.

“Most customers are not running at 100-percent [recycled content], they’re running some [at] 25 [percent] or 30 percent, depending on what the mandates are [and] what their customer base wants,” he said. “They’re going to have to buy virgin material, so we work together to make the products [and] work together to meet the customers’ goals.

“To keep up with the demands of packaging design [and customers] wanting to market their products and still have them all perform, it’s putting more demands on recyclers,” Render added.

Traditionally, converters have been the ones to resist implementing recycled content, Render said, because the material is harder to run, and that the brands have been forcing this issue. “More and more, our customers are the brands that want to secure the material, and then that helps them work with their converters,” he said, adding that packaging converters have begun to follow suit.

“There [are] a lot of other factors that are pushing them, like regulation, content laws [and] EPR [extended producer responsibility], so I think everyone sort of now gets it,” Render said. “There’s also the threat of being replaced by other materials in the plastics industry, and so the industry is recognizing that and there’s been a lot of investment in that area—not only in mechanical recycling and advanced mechanical technology and techniques ... but also chemical recycling on the other side because that actually offers a true circular solution.”

Montgomery said he’s worked with several big clients over the past few years, such as Whole Foods, and noted their ability to build internal recycling systems. But, he said, while not all companies have the means to develop pilot programs or large-scale takeback systems, many are willing to partner with organizations with existing programs around material collection.

“They’re definitely super interested as long as the margins are right,” he said, noting the cosmetics sector, in particular, “will try anything. They’re desperate.”

Render described the current plastics market as “very distressed” and said that as the price of virgin material comes down, “if you are not making a high-quality, recycled product, you’re going to be very challenged to sell your material when offering price for ethylene is in the 30s.”

Dinnison said the market distress has trickled down to recyclers at the local level and that bringing stability to the market it critical, whether it’s for polyethylene terephthalate or less widely recycled materials.

“The market definitely does have an impact and impacts everything—collection rates, purity—all the way through,” Render added. “Many of us will read articles about how our recycling rate is 5 percent … those numbers are weaponized by those who don’t like plastics. But those figures are often misleading because they include plastics that are used to build cars and to build durable goods. … I think one of things that we need to do is we need to have better data about what we’re actually trying to prove. And then we can use that data to work together to raise the [recycling] rates.”

Plastics industry experts gathered at the 2022 AMI Plastics World Expo in Cleveland Nov. 9-10 to address growing industrywide supply concerns and to offer solutions for capturing more material as brands look to meet recycled-content goals.


Related articles