May 17, 2019
APR in the News
Compounders see increased role in sustainability story
Compounders will play a key role in recycled plastics in the more circular economy of the future because they can target materials for specific end-use applications, according to exhibitors at a trio of trade shows in Cleveland.
Wojtek Zarzycki, CEO of Frontier Plastics in Laredo, Texas, said the recycler works with compounders to supply finished material.
"They can kind of reverse engineer what the end user's need is, and they compound to meet that need," he said.
Janos Kozma, vice president of Modern Dispersions Inc., a compounder and color masterbatch maker in Leominster, Mass., said his company has been using recycled plastics for some compounds for more than 30 years.
"I agree that it's a good outlet for recycled materials to go into compounds and tailor it to certain applications where suitable," Kozma said.
Modern Dispersions' booth at the AMI show featured end markets served by the company's materials, including wire and cable, pipe, agricultural film, food packaging, electronics, automotive, printing and toll compounding.
Some markets are demanding recycled content, but the recycled material often has to meet the specifications of virgin resin for specific applications, he said.
"It's a driver from the customer base, especially in automotive, to utilize as much recycled content," Kozma said. "And when properties are met, recycled materials are in demand."
National Sword's impact
China's National Sword crackdown in 2018 banning imported scrap plastic has roiled the U.S. recycling industry — putting urgency to sell more material in the United States. That has led to investments in technology and more efforts to link with compounders, exhibitors and industry officials said.
"You've had more supply in the domestic market. It's pushed prices down in the market," said Zarzycki of Frontier Plastics. He said Frontier and other recyclers are investing in technological innovation. "It's pushing the need to do something with it. It makes more sense now that there's more material."
Martin Baumann, vice president of sales at recycling equipment company Erema North America Inc. of Ipswich, Mass., said the China ban is now starting to drive investments.
"There was a bit of an expectation in the beginning of the China ban that immediately, big investment plans would spring up. But the reality is, in the about a year [since it was imposed], we're seeing actually truly new plants now, where some of the investment that we've seen for the past year was just sort of expansion of existing capacities, to some degree," he said. "Now we're seeing new installations. We see a tremendous interest in PET recycling. We're not collecting enough, and we need to solve that problem eventually too."
In addition to investments by existing recycling players, Baumann said new players are getting into the sector.
"There's a tremendous movement right now. We get so many requests we almost can't keep up," he said.
Baumann agrees that the plastics recycling industry needs active participation by compounders. Historically in the United States and Canada, he said, much of the recycled plastic went into fairly simple products like plastic lumber or was shipped in bales to China.
"What we're seeing now is actually new plants springing up actually that go from wash line to pelletizing for film. And that's new. But they're just starting up now, or being requested now," Baumann said.
He thinks recyclers also need to evolve, with the help of compounders.
"Recyclers are actually material suppliers, when you really think about it. But they don't behave like material suppliers," Baumann said. "A lot of the relationship on the recycler side is one-on-one. They're more like a toll processor. 'I get some material in, I process it for you.' I sell it to my relationship. But when you think about an Exxon Mobil or a Chevron, they have a catalog, a spec, and everybody can look at that spec. They can distribute their material much more broadly. We as recyclers have to become closer to that, where we can make to spec. I see a tremendous value if more people would be going down that road."
When part designers can pull up CAD drawings and Moldflow documents and see detailed properties of specific recycled material, that would greatly spread its use, he said.
"So we need to 'level up,' and I really believe that compounding can play a key role because one of the beauties of compounding is they make spec to recipes based on the materials," Baumann said.
At the Processing Technologies International LLC booth, Sushant Jain said the new integrated extrusion systems from sheet line maker PTI and compounding machinery maker Farrel Pomini, which continuously compound material directly into sheet, can compound recycled material. Both companies are targeting packaging, automotive and industrial sheet.
PTI and Farrel Pomini both exhibited at the Cleveland trade show.
Recycling is becoming more urgent as public outrage grows over plastics in the oceans, said John Standish, director of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, in a presentation at the trade show.
"You just have to look at the news — sometimes every day it seems, certainly every week. And we see negative publicity dealing with plastics. Plastics in the ocean is the biggest one. More recently we have microplastics," Standish said. "And in the past, the pace of change impacting plastics recycling has gone at a graceful and deliberate speed. As a result of all this negative publicity, the pace of change in our industry's picking up remarkably."
Standish discussed the APR Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability, which he said is an important document for boosting true recyclability of packaging, up front, during product design.
Standish described the sorting technology at modern materials recovery facilities (MRFs). A near infrared optical sorter can detect the type and material of a bottle and automatically sort them from a stream of mixed plastic. But problems can happen such as black bottles that have no reflective signal, which can be sent to the MRF trash pile. Consumer product makers can use a brighter shade of plastic or design in a special black colorant that can be detected, he said.
Another problem: packaging such as spaghetti sauce, in plastic packaging, but with a metal lid. He said that lid may register the entire package as metal and go into that pile, wasting the value of the plastic packaging. APR advocates educating consumers to remove the metal lid on plastic packages but leave on lids that are plastic.
As MRFs move to super-high throughputs, Standish said technology is advancing quickly. The Max-AI sorting robot uses sophisticated vision systems to pick and sort much faster human workers. The robot gives continuous feedback to plant personnel.
Standish said the Max-AI has spread rapidly since the first one was sold last year.
"This is remarkable change in our industry," he said.