Plastics News - May 20, 2019 - 15

Plastics News, May 20, 2019 * 15


Project aims to test flexible packaging recycling in MRFs
By Jim Johnson
Plastics News Staff
Researchers see a pathway that
could significantly increase the
amount of flexible plastic packaging being recycled in the United
States, and with the help of one
recycler in Pennsylvania, the approach could prove feasible by
the end of this year.
What has now become a yearslong effort to determine whether
flexible packaging can be successfully processed at material recovery facilities (MRF) is entering an
important phase in 2019.
Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a research project
aiming to tackle the vexing problem that plastic flexible packaging presents to traditional MRFs
is entering some heavy-duty, real-world testing.
J.P. Mascaro & Sons, a solid
waste and recycling company in
Pennsylvania, is testing additional equipment this year that would
allow its MRF in Birdsboro, near
Reading, to readily accept flexible
The idea is to use an additional four optical sorters as well as
more mechanical equipment to allow the MRF to successfully separate the material from other recyclables such as paper and metal.
Flexible packaging, and bags in
particular, have long been a nemesis for many MRFs around the
country as those facilities typical-

Continued from Page 1
the entire supply chain together
when it comes to finding ways to
increase plastics recycling and
use of recycled plastics in new
This, Flores said, is allowing
Berry to work more closely with
its customers to help them meet
their environmental goals.
"It's all about the end markets.
It's demand. Demand creates the
pull. So how do we as Berry contribute the solution? It's by using
more recycled content," he said.
The company, for example, recently introduced a new line of
packaging called Verdant that
uses 100 percent recycled content.
As Berry looks more and more
toward the greater adoption of
recycled resin, the impact from
just this one company ultimately could be huge. That's because
Berry currently uses about 4.5
billion pounds of resin each year
to make new products, and that

'We've looked at MRFs across
the U.S. For large MRFs, it's
going to cost $3 million to $5
million to be able to do this
kind of processing.'

ly were not originally designed to
handle that type of material. The
plastic can wrap itself around rotating sorting equipment as well
as find its way into recycled paper
bales as contamination.
Most communities, as a result,
do not accept flexible plastic
packaging in their recycling. But
the material does continue to
seep into so-called single-stream
recycling collection programs
that have become commonplace.
MRFF, the program aimed at
finding a solution, estimates it
will cost $3 million to $5 million
to retrofit the recycling centers
to augment existing equipment to
handle flexibles.
Susan Graff is a principal at Resource Recycling Systems, a consultancy that has been shepherding the MRFF project through its
The idea is initially to replicate
real-world conditions as at Mascaro's recycling facility through the
controlled introduction of flexible
"The MRF owner is in the process of accepting the equipment.
When that's completed, we'll be
adding material to mimic the 3
percent [of flexible plastic] that
we expect to get," Graff said. "Before we turn it on in the communities, we want to give the MRF the
test of processing at that level.
"This is a proof of concept pilot," she said.
If that testing goes well, the
project will allow Mascaro cus-

tomers to start including flexible
plastics in their curbside collection containers.
There was extensive debate,
years ago, in the solid waste
and recycling collection end of
the business about whether single-stream or dual stream recycling was more advantageous.
Single-stream, because of the
economics of not having to sort
materials at the curb, ultimately
won out.
What wasn't anticipated at
that time was the impact that increasing consumer recycling ease
would have on the addition of
flexible plastic packaging into the
recycling stream.
While collection programs differ significantly from location to
location, most customers have
long been able to put their recycled PET and high density polyethylene containers into curbside
mix. Some programs accept a wider range of plastics. This inconsistency from program to program
can lead to confusion and con-

number will increase with the
pending acquisition of RPC Group
Recycled content only represents a small portion of the
company's resin use these days,
so a significant increase could
have an impact on the demand
Emterra Group is a waste management and recycling company
based in Burlington, Ontario, that
has operations in both Canada
and the United States.
"We can do a lot more and
certainly want to do a lot more
with some of the major commitments being made by brands [to
increase recycling and recycled
content]," said Paulina Leung,
vice president of corporate strategy and business development at
Emterra. "This is the opportunity
for us to step up with brands beyond just hauling stuff from point
A to point B."
"The world is changing at a
quick pace," she said.
"Packaging materials are very
visible. Consumers, governments,
regulators, NGOs, environmental

groups are placing more and more
pressure on brands but also on
the recycling sector to do something meaningful," Leung said.
She said her company is developing a business, in its nascent
stage, to engage brand companies
to help them achieve their environmental goals.
Emterra has a straight-forward
view of successful recycling.
Markets first, collection second,
Leung said.
"It's easy to collect. It's hard
to create something that has value and has an end market," she
said. "There has to be a market.
Something being 100 percent recyclable or 100 percent recycled
is not enough. We need to have
100 percent of those materials reincorporated into new products.
That's the only way we are going
to achieve a circular economy."
Leung said she wanted to create a sense of urgency in her comments to the crowd, "because we
feel it."
"We've definitely hit a tipping
point," she said. "The world is
changing at a really quick pace."

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Resource Recycling Systems

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Some MRFs use vacuum systems to suck out as much flexible
plastic packaging as possible at
the onset before it has a chance
to create problems. Employees
standing along the line also pick
out problematic materials before
they reach equipment.
But it is not uncommon for MRF
operators to have to shut down
their lines completely several
times each day to allow workers
to go into the machinery and cut
out flexible plastics because they
have wound themselves around
sortation equipment.
MRFF believes there are about
100 large locations that would be
well served to install this type of
additional equipment.
"We've looked at MRFs across
the U.S. For large MRFs, it's going
to cost $3 million to $5 million to
be able to do this kind of processing," Graff said.
That comes out to an investment of about $2 per ton at the
large MRFs, which makes such an

investment feasible, Graff said.
Work at the Pennsylvania facility is being funded by a grant
through MRFF as well as money
from the company itself. "They
see this as a growth opportunity
for them," she said.
An official with Mascaro could
not be reached in time for comment in this story but has previously issued a statement.
"We are confident that the pilot
will be successful and will generate industry data to show FPP
[flexible plastic packaging] generators, municipalities and the
recycling industry that FPP can
be efficiently and economically
recycled and marketed instead of
being landfills," said Joseph Mascaro, director of sustainability, in
a statement.
T.J. Stinson is recycling coordinator at J.P. Mascaro.
"What we're trying to do is get
all of the packaging material that
currently goes into the landfill,
get it into our building, accumulate it and find a new market that
we can put it back to use, give it a
second life," he told Philadelphia
radio station WHYY.
For communities with best practices and scalable systems, Graff
said, "loose automated collection
of the material is the way to go.
"If we're looking at what the
promise of this pilot is, it's to be
able to scale this pretty easily,"
she said, to include other large
MRF locations around the country.

Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers,
speaks at the Plastics Recycling Conference and Trade Show in
National Harbor, Md., near Washington, D.C.
Plastics News photo by Jim Johnson

Plastics News - May 20, 2019

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