Monday, November 01, 2010: 11:21:11 AM

Recycling and Using Recovered Plastics: Exciting Opportunities

Freakin' Awesome! Freakin' Awesome! Freakin' Awesome! Freakin' Awesome! Freakin' Awesome!

Steve Russell
Vice President, Plastics
American Chemistry Council

Even in a challenging economy, sustainability remains a key driver for America’s plastics producers, and companies that focus on innovation and ‘think outside the box’ continue to be rewarded by their consumers, their customers and their shareholders. 

In fact, thanks to numerous innovations in the plastics recycling industry – from sorting technologies to baling standards and processing techniques – about 4.25 billion pounds of post-consumer plastics were recycled in the United States in 2008, and these valuable materials are finding their way into everyday and cutting edge products. Yesterday’s water bottles, milk and detergent jugs, and grocery bags are becoming today’s fashions, accessories, furniture, backyard decks, cars, cleaning brushes, garden tools, kitchen gadgets – even the picture frames on our walls.

November 15 will mark the fourteenth year that we have celebrated America Recycles Day – an opportunity to reflect on the importance of plastics recycling and the progress that the industry has made.

The American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division recently launched a discussion with numerous companies and associations up and down the plastics value chain to kick start some new thinking on how to boost recycling opportunities – and rates – nationwide.  Participants understand that recovering more of this valuable resource is an important step toward improving the environment and creating new, green jobs.

Among the plastics industry’s top-tier priorities are to support projects that increase the types of plastics that are collected for recycling, to make it easier and more attractive to recycle, and to educate consumers about growing opportunities to recycle plastics.  We think these projects can have a real impact on improving recycling rates.

We are sharing information with recyclers on how they can operate more efficiently, supporting programs to make it easier for consumers to recycle plastic containers (in addition to bottles), expanding access to sorting technologies among material recovery facilities (MRFs) and making it easier to recycle at multi-family, industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) buildings.

Other innovative ideas being discussed are modern energy recovery and state-of-the-art conversion technologies that are transforming used plastics into energy, which can fuel homes and businesses.  Great lessons are coming out of Europe. Countries like Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Austria and Germany are keeping more waste out of landfills by combining recycling with energy recovery.

In the United States, companies like Agilyx, Climax Global Energy and Envion are developing innovative recovery technologies that convert used plastics into petrochemical feedstock that can be used to make diesel fuels, waxes and lubricants.

Other companies are coming up with new and exciting ways to recycle and use recovered plastics. Last year Axion International introduced the world’s first thermoplastic railroad bridge made almost entirely from recycled plastic. Nepco and Timbron are creating beautiful picture frames and decorative mouldings from recycled polystyrene. Ford is using recycled plastics in automotive interiors like seat upholstery.  Scotch-BriteTM uses recycled plastic fibers in its scrubbing products.  Companies like Trex and AERT are using recycled plastic bags and wraps – about 300 million pounds annually – to make composite lumber for backyard decks, gazebos and fences.

For decades, plastics have inspired innovations and provided products that make our lives safer and more convenient while helping to reduce our environmental impact.  Those innovations continue today with new, stronger lightweight materials, and as more and more products reach the market made with recycled content.  As an industry, we know there is more to do, but we are committed to making things happen, and we are working together to get things done.

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