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Re: [GreenYes] Small Volume Plastics

I recently estimated that the cost for German consumer to try and recycle 
ALL packaging as opposed to just traditional materials and  and #1 and 2 
plastics is an extra $1 billion per year.  This includes all blisters, 
yogurt cups, lids, small paper, composites, etc.  No decrease in trash fees.

At 11:09 AM 12/14/01 -0600, Peter Anderson wrote:
>     In the past week there has been a good deal of email traffic about what
>to do with regard to small volume plastic containers (i.e. those with SPI
>code nos. 3-7).
>     Here is the breakdown of the proportion of each resin used in packaging
>in the U.S. in 1998 from Modern Plastics magazine (with apologies for the
>loss of columns in plain text).
>Proportion of Resin in Bottles
>Millions of Pounds in 1998 Produced in U.S.
>PET Soft Drink1,975 31.3%
>PET Custom1,570 24.9%
>HDPE Food1,334 21.1%
>HDPE HIC+Oil1,224 19.4%
>PVC145 2.3%
>LDPE62 1.0%
>PP190 3.0%
>Total6,311 100.0%
>     The small volume resins, then, are only 6.3% of the packaging stream.
>With all plastic containers comprising only 4.9% of generated waste,
>according to
>Franklin, that means the small volume resins are only 0.3% of MSW.
>     One can look at the issue of these small volume resins two ways. One way
>is to ask whether product should be packaged in those resins at all.  The
>other way is to devote the resources that would be necessary to recycle an
>extremely small volume material (remembering that, as a general rule, it is
>ruinously expensive to set up an infrastructure to handle small volume
>     As to the first, the answer depends upon the resin.  Polypropylene (PP),
>or no. 5, is a polyolefin that is in the same resin family as high density
>polyethylene (HDPE), and the two are highly compatible. Indeed, a little
>known fact is that many molders of copolymer (i.e. pigmented) HDPE bottles
>deliberately add a little bit of PP, along with other additives, to improve
>performance. It would be good if there were tests run to determine the
>threshold of concern for PP levels in copolymer HDPE, but, intuitively, I
>find it hard to imagine the relative proportion of PP bottles turning up in
>a recycling program being of any concern, even for bottle-to-bottle
>recycling, if it is just thrown in with the colored HDPE, which is what is
>almost certainly what is currently happening since it visually looks so
>similar.  If anyone has any data to suggest otherwise, however, please share
>     As to polystyrene (PS), or no. 6, these will be found in the container
>category primarily in yogurt cups.  For those programs taking injection
>grade HPDE (yogurt cups and ice cream containers), the PS would probably be
>a matter of concern, unless the end product were extremely low end
>applications.  This, then, could be of concern to some localized programs,
>though not to most.
>     As to polyvinyl chloride, however, the answer is quite the opposite.
>Without consuming too much of your time, the bottom line is that this single
>resin, occupying only 2% of the plastic bottle stream, and accounting for
>only about 1% of PVC sales (most of which is in construction), is the single
>greatest factor keeping PET recycling underwater for most of its commodity
>cycle.  Because the two resins, which are completely incompatible down to 20
>ppm, are visually indistinguishable on the sorting line, expensive, and
>imperfect, optical sortation equipment and advanced techniques must be
>     On a raw basis, the capital and operating costs of that optical
>equipment, in the average case, are about 1.4 cents/lb.  However, this
>doesn't account for the fact that, just to produce the purity required by
>fiber markets results in false positives that incorrectly kicks out PET
>along with the PVC, nor for the yield loss.  Factoring in for these
>increases that raw cost to 2.6 cents/lb.  But, that, in turn, doesn't
>account for the fact that even using these optical scanners cannot produce
>the higher purity levels required for the bottle end markets.
>     This is of major concern because bottle markets in general pay net 6-7
>cents more per pound, and Coke's commendable commitment to use 10% recycled
>content in their bottles opens up a new world when the higher paying bottle
>markets loom as a brass ring for recyclers to grab in appropriate cases that
>can significantly ratchet up their revenues.
>     That is to say, local recyclers are losing about 9 cents per pound
>because of the teeny residual presence of PVC -- which provides no
>performance or cost advantage over PET!  This is more than the trended 8
>cents per pound that we're getting FOB for our clear/green PET bales!!!!!!!!
>     If there is nothing that any of us do before we die, there would be no
>greater legacy to leave to our recycling descendants than to undertake the
>necessary effort to convince packagers to stop using this resin.
>     On the other hand, there is the alternative view that we ought to devote
>whatever energies are necessary to recycle that 0.3% of MSW which consists
>of these small volume resins, even though it is economically impossible to
>recycle anything in such small volume because the handling systems, which
>are expensive, can only be spread over such small volumes, raising unit
>costs to astronomical and near-insane levels.
>     It is for that reason that those who follow this thread wind up either
>shipping mixed bales to China or some extremely low end application that
>claim that they can blend all resins without the need for sorting.  China is
>not an answer for even the West Coast, because, beyond the fact that no one
>knows precisely what is done with it over there, that market has, can, and
>will intermittently dry up over night and then where are you. A recycling
>manager can't tell his residents to sort only 1&2's this month and all
>plastics next month.
>     Nor are the black box salesman worth our time because, beyond the fact
>that they go out of business all the time, they are a no-pay market. Do we
>want to lose what ought to be 12-16 cents per pound for 94% of our bottles
>in order to claim bragging rights that, even though we've lost all that
>revenue, we got the last 6%.  Wouldn't it make a lot more sense pursuing the
>frontiers where the real gains can be made such as residential mixed paper,
>expanded organics recovery or C&D recycling where we're talking about
>increasing recycling from 10 to 40 percentage points!
>     Then there is the American Plastic Council's all bottles program. That's
>a whole other multi-page discussion, but, for the moment, suffice it to say
>that what it really accomplishes is creating the false impression that PVC
>is recyclable -- when it is not -- which is diametrically the opposite of
>what we desperately need to if we are going to be able to convince the
>consumer and packager to remove PVC from the shelves. The research that APC
>has offered up in support of their claim that all-bottles increases nos. 1&
>2 recovery in fact, shows a mixed bag with many examples of reduced 1&2
>recovery, but in any case all of it mired in improper testing procedures.
>The increased recovery which is shown is all explainable by the fact that
>the introduction of all-bottles is accompanied by increased general
>education advertising efforts that increases recovery regardless of the
>     Bottom line, don't worry about the small volume resins, except for PVC,
>and that is where our efforts desperately need to be directed to make it
>possible for PET recycling to thrive, which it can and will, if we only come
>together and act in our own economic interests.
>                                                                 Peter
>Peter Anderson
>4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
>Madison, WI 53705
>(608) 231-1100
>Fax (608) 233-0011
>To post to the greenyes list,
>email to:
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>this list is available here:

Michele Raymond
Recycling Laws International/ State Recycling Laws Update
5111 Berwyn Rd. Ste 115 College Park, MD 20740)
301/345-4237   Fax 345-4768

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