One word: [plastics] recycling

New Orleans—A record number of attendees and exhibitors helped substantiate the enthusiastic statements regarding the plastics recycling sector delivered by the leaders of three prominent industry associations at the recent Plastics Recycling Conference (March 19-20; Sheraton New Orleans; New Orleans, LA).

"This is going to be a great year, starting today," declared Steve Russell, VP of the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) plastics division . "The reason for my optimism is that access to recycling has either reached or is about to reach a place where companies can put 'recyclable' on more packages."

Russell, along with Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI); Sharon Kneiss, president and CEO of the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA) kicked off the conference and exhibition with a panel discussion moderated by Jerry Powell, executive editor of Resource Recycling , which also organizes the event.

Russell was referring to news delivered at the event that some common PET and HDPE packages could now be labeled recyclable with PP close behind. Kneiss and Russell both cited a shift in the public's mindset regarding recycling as a key reason to feel good about where the sector is headed.

"Clearly, the U.S. has adopted recycling as a cultural value," Kneiss said. "It is a value not just a job. People realize how plastics can impact their lives in a positive way, and they want more access to recycling."

"We're at a  unique place where we're about to make recycling not only a cultural norm but a profitable business," Russell said, adding that equipment improvements in optical scanning and stereovision systems, among others, could make mass single-stream recycling more viable.

"The advances in technology are absolutely amazing," Russell said, "and they are continuing."

Carteaux, whose group has promoted more responsible handling of plastics by the processing community through initiatives like Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), said he'd been surprised by the amount of post industrial recycling going on the in the plastics industry.

"[SPI] wants to capture the data on post industrial recycling," Carteaux said, "and make sure the industry gets credit for it." Carteaux noted that a large number of processors that formerly landfilled scrap and now reclaiming it, and saving money in the process.

In 2012, SPI added the goal of "zero waste" to its mission statement and more recently hired Kim Holmes as director of recycling. "[Holmes'] first job is to create a matrix of data gathering on current industry plastics recycling efforts and do a gap analysis," Carteaux said, "so we don't duplicate plastics recycling efforts."

Marine litter menace remains
Panel members did acknowledge one current issue that could derail plastics and, subsequently, plastics recycling: marine litter.

"[Marine litter] is one issue that keeps me up at night," Russell said. "It is undeniable that the oceans are the place where our improperly disposed waste goes." Given that, Russell also acknowledged that the current push to ban various plastic packaging items, ranging from bags to bottles to foam, will not address the issue either. "We're not going to ban our way to a cleaner ocean,"

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