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New materials recycling challenges addressed

When it comes to packaging materials, innovation and recycling are sometimes at odds.

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When it comes to packaging materials, innovation and recycling are sometimes at odds. At The Packaging Conference—an event sponsored by Plastic Technologies, Inc. and consultancy SBA-CCI, Inc. and held in February in Atlanta—representatives from three plastics-related organizations presented updates on the latest initiatives being developed to address emerging package recycling challenges.

From the PET Resin Association (PETRA), executive director Ralph Vasami spoke about a new recyclability assessment model that includes testing and evaluation criteria for special-use and innovative resins having a low market presence.

“We believe the PETRA Model will increase both innovation and recyclability testing by focusing on real-market resin performance and the evaluation needs of producers, brand owners, and recyclers,” Vasami said. “Confirming the viability of promising resin variants is vital to advancing PET resin science and the use of recycled material.”

Moving forward, Vasami told attendees the best way to get more materials into the PET recycling stream will be through industry collaboration. “PET recyclability is a critical path to sustainability,” he concluded.

Following Vasami, Holli Whitt, market development manager, Sustainability, for Eastman Chemical Co., discussed a new label consortium that has been formed to address the challenges of recycling PET bottles with full-body shrink-sleeve labels. “Containers with full-body wrap labels as a percent of bale weight has increased,” she noted. “This causes a variety of problems in the recycling stream.”

The consortium, which has had two formal meetings thus far, includes representatives from the entire value chain. While putting together such a varied group, some of which are competitive entities, “gets complicated pretty quickly,” Whitt is hopeful that the collaboration will bring about innovation to streamline the recycling of full-wrap shrink-labeled PET bottles.

Wrapping up the afternoon discussion on recycling, Tom Busard of Plastipak Packaging and chairman of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), spoke on some of the most pressing issues facing recycling. Among them, the use of degradable additives and shrink-sleeve labels.

Of degradable additives, he said: “They are not a good idea. We do not see any good reason to use these additives.”

On the issue of shrink-sleeve labels used for PET bottles, Busard noted that nonconforming sleeve labels can cause the reclamation industry as much as $130 million each year. “Sorting equipment has one second or less to determine what material is under the label,” he said. “Most cannot.”

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