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Bottles fuel use of recycled resin

Chevron incorporates recycled-content resin in its bottles for fuel additives, taking a proactive approach to potential legislative container requirements.

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For years, San Francisco-based Chevron U.S.A. Products Company sold its fuel additives in bottles made of 100% virgin Barex®, a rubber-modified copolymer of acrylonitrile and methylacrylate. But in the last 18 months, the company has switched to a roughly 50:50 blend of the virgin and recycled resin. BP Chemicals (Cleveland, OH) provides the virgin Barex resin and the Barex RC recycled-content resin used for the blend. The change to recycled-content resin involves bottles for nine products, marketed primarily under the PRO-GARD® and TECHRON® brand names. Chevron says that it's made the change without affecting performance, and at little or no added cost. How? "Recycled-content materials are generally more costly than virgin because of collection, cleaning and freight costs. But we've located a large reliable supply [of the recycled material]." So says Gene H. Duckett, new products development manager for the Consumer Products Team, part of Chevron's Global Lubricants Unit. "We pay the same for this blend of resin as we did for the virgin material, which makes it very attractive for us." BP collects, cleans and reprocesses post-industrial waste from several sources. The primary supplier prefers not to be identified. BP acquires the tinted scrap from several of that supplier's plants. BP sends the blended resin to Silgan Plastics (Chesterfield, MO) and Owens-Brockway (Toledo, OH) for extrusion/blow-molding of the fuel additive bottles. Bottles are shipped to Chevron's Fort Madison, Iowa plant for filling. Decorating methods vary, depending on the specific brand. They include using a heat-transfer process or either paper or pressure-sensitive labels. The new bottles had no effect on filling line performance, Duckett says. The products are sold to major mass merchandisers, and through Chevron's network of jobbers. "Shelf life for products in bottles using the recycled-content Barex is five years," says Duckett. "We conducted accelerated storage tests and saw no adverse effect on shelf life by going to the recycled-content bottle." Proactive stand Environmental legislation in California, Oregon and Florida drove Chevron's switch to the recycled-content resin. Although that legislation only called for 25% recycled-content resin, Chevron opted to use 50%. Chevron believed its switch met the various state requirements. But why use 50% recycled-content resin? "We felt that if 25 percent was considered good, some legislator would say 50 percent is even better," recalls Duckett. "So, we were trying to be proactive. We also knew that the bottle could use 50-percent of the recycled-content resin without affecting quality, and the price was attractive, so we went to 50-percent Barex RC. It's better that the scrap material is reused in our bottles than shipped directly to the landfill." Making the switch, however, required multiple considerations. "Our first concern was that the recycled material provide sufficient oxygen and chemical barrier to contain the product's ingredients," notes Larry Kirchner, PRO-GARD new product development manager at the time of the decision. "These additives are polyether amines," notes Duckett. "The chemicals in these products are very aggressive and will attack the plastic and turn the bottle into a soft marshmallow without proper barrier properties," he says. "This bottle's barrier properties won't let moisture or oxygen in, and they prevent the liquid from softening the plastic. We also like the recycled-content resin because it blow-molds into a nice, slick, shiny package." Another key advantage for Chevron is that the resin eliminates the need for bottle fluorination. "It's quite an expensive process. This could involve shipping molded bottles to an outside firm, then back to us," he explains. "Fluorination involves placing bottles in a pressure vessel and forcing fluoride into the bottle surface to act as a barrier to keep the aggressive liquid from attacking the plastic. It allows the use of a less costly resin. It's successful for a lot of people, but we were not satisfied with its barrier qualities for our product." Effective to mold Not surprisingly, "Barex RC is identical to virgin Barex in terms of its processing properties and price," says Kirchner. Silgan Plastics, for example, blow molds the new bottles using the original molds and equipment, without modifications. Likewise, Owens-Brockway's process was not altered in any way with the switch. The only trade-off, Chevron's Kirchner says, was a minor one. "We have to add slightly more colorant to create our trademark shiny black bottle. This counteracts the effect of the tinted resin from the supplier's scrap." Might Chevron tilt the 50:50 balance of virgin/recycled-content resin in favor of the latter? "We may be able to push recycled-content out a little bit, but we're at the edge of technology when it comes to the colorants issue," admits Duckett. Curiously, Chevron has not merchandised its environmental edge. "We get a lot of complaints about the use of plastics, so our use of the recycled-content material is something we should be telling the public about through our marketing and advertising efforts," Duckett notes. "We plan to do that, but we don't know if we want to incorporate the information into the mold for the bottom of the bottle or print it on our label. "We have to be careful because we don't want to say we're green when what we're selling is an aggressive chemical. But the product does help clean up the car's engine and that leads to less pollution. With the addition of recycled-content material in our bottles, we feel like we're not only proactive, but also a good citizen."

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