Recycled plastics lower energy consumption: study

A new study by the North American Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), based in Washington, has found significant reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions linked to using recycled plastics in manufacturing new products.

Industry research consultants Franklin Associates, a division of ERG, Lexington, Massachusetts, prepared the report, “Life cycle impacts for postconsumer recycled resins: PET, HDPE and PP.”

The report examines recycling processes for three of the most common types of plastics recycled today: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to the report, using recycled plastic reduced total energy consumption by 79 percent for PET, by 88 percent for HDPE and by eight percent for PP. Using recycled plastics also limited emissions by 67 percent for PET, by 71 percent for HDPE and by 71 percent for PP.

Franklin Associates analysed the energy requirements and environmental impacts of postconsumer recycled plastics as compared with virgin plastics.

The analysis is an update and expansion of a recycled resin study the company completed in 2011 for the APR quantifying the total energy requirements, energy sources, atmospheric pollutants, waterborne pollutants and solid waste that result from producing recycled PET and HDPE from post-consumer plastic.

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Steve Alexander, APR president, said the study shows a win-win for companies who incorporate recycled plastic resin into their new products.

“They can improve the environmental sustainability of their products and processes and reduce their energy costs.

“It demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of the full recycling chain for plastic goods – a chain that starts with companies manufacturing recyclable products and ends with consumers buying products made from recycled materials,” he said.

 

“This report clearly demonstrates the benefits of a renewed commitment to plastic recycling,” said Jamie Camara, CEO of Mexico-based PetStar and chair of The APR board of directors.

“It is critical that North America continues to invest in our recycling infrastructure so that we can expand the material that is collected, sorted and processed for second use. Recycling and using recycled materials are good for manufacturers, consumers and the planet.”

Global definition of recyclable developed

The term “recyclable” has received a global definition in relation to plastic packaging and products from two international recycling organisations.

In order for a plastic to be considered recyclable according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and Plastics Recycling Europe (PRE), it must meet four conditions.

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The product must be made of a plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program. It also must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processed.

It must also be able to be processed and reclaimed or recycled with a commercial recycling process and it must become a raw material that is used in the production of a new product.

Under this definition, innovative materials must demonstrate that they can be collected and sorted in sufficient quantities, must be compatible with the existing industrial recycling processes or will have to be available in sufficient quantities to justify new recycling processes.

In a joint statement from PRE President Ton Emans and CEO of APR Steve Alexander said the onslaught of recent announcements around commitments to package sustainability and recyclability often did not have a defined definition.

“Recently, we have seen many announcements regarding legislative measures on plastics products and pledges of the industry actors committing to making their products recyclable,” Mr Emans said.

“As recyclers, we are a fundamental part of the solution to the issue of sustainability of plastics, and we need for the appropriate audiences to understand what is necessary to label a product or package ‘recyclable’,” he said.

Mr Alexander said the use of the term ‘recyclable’ is consistently used with packages and products without a defined reference point.

“At the end of the day, recyclability goes beyond just being technically recyclable there must be consumer access to a recycling program, a recycler must be able to process the material, and there must be an end market.”

Both groups have said they understand the complexity of a global system and welcome comments from the plastics recycling industry and relevant stakeholders.