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Post-Consumer Rigid Plastics Recycling Grows 11% in 2008

RecycledMaterialsMore than 361 million pounds of post-consumer rigid plastics were collected for recycling nationwide in 2008, up nearly 11 percent from 2007, according to a report released by the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Scientists also may have found a way to develop biodegradable plastics and extend the useful life of some plastics.

Approximately 62 percent of the 361 million pounds of materials were manufactured into new products in the U.S. or Canada, and the remainder was exported primarily to China. Since 2007, the ratio of export to domestic purchases has flip flopped, according to ACC. Most of the recycled material was used to manufacture new products such as pallets, crates, composite lumber, and gardening items in the North American market.

The report, “2008 National Post consumer Report on Non-Bottle Rigid Plastics Recycling,” reveals that as the economy started to falter in late October 2008 the demand and pricing for plastic scrap started to drop dramatically with export market purchases nearly coming to a halt for most mixed-resin plastic scrap bales. The market started to rebound at the end of the first quarter in 2009. Currently, pricing and demand remains strong although not back to record high levels, according to the report.

The report, prepared by Moore Recycling Associates, segments non-bottle rigid plastics into two categories: nondurable items (or packaging) such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) tubs, polypropylene (PP) cups and similar food containers, and durable items such as pallets, crates, carts, 5-gallon buckets and electronic housings.

The report finds that more communities collected mixed rigid plastics in 2008 with twenty-eight of the one-hundred largest U.S. cities collecting non-bottle rigid plastics through curbside programs. An increased number of communities also recovered and recycled this material.

The packaging industry started to increase its efforts last year to recycle plastics and deliver sustainable plastic bottles and packaging to food and drink manufacturers and retailers.

Out of the 361 million pounds collected for recycling, 194 million pounds, or 54 percent, could be classified as durable goods, according to the report. A large percentage of non-bottle rigid plastics collected for recycling was polyolefin material (HDPE, LDPE, PP), which typically has the highest value in both domestic and export markets because they can be reused in more products and reuse processing for these types of materials are comparatively easier than other resins.

However, IBM and Stanford University may have discovered a way to extend the useful lifespan of PET and plant-based plastics. In a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal, Macromolecules, scientists from IBM and Stanford University reveal a breakthrough that could lead to a new recycling process and the development of new types of biodegradable, biocompatible plastics that can be used in a variety of industries including plastics recycling, healthcare and microelectronics.

This means that materials made from recycled plastic bottles could be repeatedly recycled instead of disposed of each year because plastics are currently limited to second generation reuse only, according to the paper.

The scientists are pioneering the application of organocatalysis to green polymer chemistry, which not only could lead to new biodegradable plastics but also custom polymers that could help deliver drugs to a specific cell or region, says IBM.

The paper, “Organocatalysis: Opportunities and Challenges for Polymer Synthesis,” details the development of several new families of cost-effective and environmentally benign organic catalysts for the conversion of renewable resources to products and recycling strategies that could deliver a closed-loop life cycle for materials.

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