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May 22, 2019 - Plastics News

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Consumers, brand owners, processors all have a part in increasing recycled content

Plastics recycling really does not start, or stop, with plastics recyclers.

For recovery and reuse of plastics to ultimately advance, it will need help from people all along the life cycle of products, including plastic processors, brand owners, consumers and the recyclers themselves, a group close to the issue believes.

Plastics recyclers, said President Steve Alexander of the Association of Plastic Recyclers trade group, can handle any type of resin. But, he said, there has to be an end market for the output.

"If there's no demand for that material, if there's no financing going back the other way, what are we doing? We're collecting, we're sorting, we're processing trash. Who the hell would build a business model based on that?

"So we all have a vested interest in increasing demand for the material that's out there," he said during a panel discussion at the recent Plastics Recycling Conference and Trade Show in National Harbor near Washington, D.C.

As sustainability director for Berry Global Group Inc., Rob Flores said his company is fielding an ever-increasing number of inquiries regarding recycled content in its products.

And he does not mind the added attention one bit.

"As a packaging and plastic parts manufacturer, we want to partner with our customers to see how we can help them," Flores said. "When I think about our customers, where they spend their time, I'm actually glad that all of this attention has come up around packaging waste recently because our customers really weren't thinking about us too much."

But now they are. And they are asking questions.

This engagement by consumer brand companies is helping tie ​ the entire supply chain together when it comes to finding ways to increase plastics recycling and use of recycled plastics in new products.

This, Flores said, is allowing Berry to work more closely with its customers to help them meet their environmental goals.

"It's all about the end markets. It's demand. Demand creates the pull. So how do we as Berry contribute the solution? It's by using more recycled content," he said.

The company, for example, recently introduced a new line of packaging called Verdant that uses 100 percent recycled content.

As Berry looks more and more toward the greater adoption of recycled resin, the impact from just this one company ultimately could be huge. That's because Berry currently uses about 4.5 billion pounds of resin each year to make new products, and that number will increase with the pending acquisition of RPC Group plc.

Recycled content only represents a small portion of the company's resin use these days, so a significant increase could have an impact on the demand market.

Emterra Group is a waste management and recycling company based in Burlington, Ontario, that has operations in both Canada and the United States.

"We can do a lot more and certainly want to do a lot more with some of the major commitments being made by brands [to increase recycling and recycled content]," said Paulina Leung, vice president of corporate strategy and business development at Emterra. "This is the opportunity for us to step up with brands beyond just hauling stuff from point A to point B."

"The world is changing at a quick pace," she said.

"Packaging materials are very visible. Consumers, governments, regulators, NGOs, environmental groups are placing more and more pressure on brands but also on the recycling sector to do something meaningful," Leung said.

She said her company is developing a business, in its nascent stage, to engage brand companies to help them achieve their environmental goals.

Emterra has a straight-forward view of successful recycling. Markets first, collection second, Leung said.

"It's easy to collect. It's hard to create something that has value and has an end market," she said. "There has to be a market. Something being 100 percent recyclable or 100 percent recycled is not enough. We need to have 100 percent of those materials reincorporated into new products. That's the only way we are going to achieve a circular economy."

Leung said she wanted to create a sense of urgency in her comments to the crowd, "because we feel it."

"We've definitely hit a tipping point," she said. "The world is changing at a really quick pace."

Read the full from Plastics News.