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Recycling week in Florida

Recycling of plastics is alive and well in Florida, and most everywhere else. The public thinks it's cool to be green, and that recycling is green. That means money to those who are good at buying and selling. There are still issues -- commercial, technical and political -- around the quality and quantity of supply and the separation into streams for maximum value, but it hasn't dampened the enthusiasm. Recycling is in.

One proof of their importance is the 1,700 or so people who showed up in Orlando to attend the Plastics Recycling conference and associated exhibition on March 11-12, and the hundreds more who stayed over in Orlando or came specifically for the SPE environmental division conference, March 13-14. If you didn't attend and want to know who's what, get the meeting catalog from Resource Recycling and the conference program from SPE, Furthermore, Resource Recycling offers free access to past articles at connect.re-trac.com.

There were many important topics on the table: (very) brief summaries follow. In a subsequent issue of PlasticsToday, I'll have a summary of the SPE technical papers: speakers, affiliations, and my condensation of the subject and conclusions. Don't miss it, and do follow up with the presenters on work that is important to you. Here are some of the topics:

1.  The Green Fence. The Chinese tried to stop the flow of very-low-quality scrap about a year ago, inspecting shipments and inspiring American shippers to do the same. They have let up on this issue lately, but the inspiration remains. The underlying problem has to do with the rising standard of living in China, which means higher manufacturing costs and less ability to poke through piles of junk for whatever may have value. I am not surprised, as many people saw this coming. We can now worry more about an Indian green fence, if it hasn't started already; it may not be as serious, as the Indian government doesn't have the all-powerful clout of the Chinese.

2.  Bioplastics. Most responsible people now know the difference between bioBASED (non-petroleum-based) plastics and bioACTIVE (degradable, compostable, etc.). The double whammy of higher costs and poorer performance of the bioactives has been minimized by some sensible pricing and useful additives, but the biggest drive is the desire of brand-owners to look green to their customers. The general public thinks bioactives are good because they "go away," even though this means wasted resources and more carbon dioxide into the air. Tipping the balance away from bioactives is the opposition of the recyclers, who see them as devaluing the recycle streams.

3.  Bans on bags, polystyrene foams and water bottles. They are here, they are growing and they won't go away. Politicians go where the votes are (unless they go where the money is, which is another problem). The people want to see recycling grow, and that growth seems to be the only thing that might slow down the tide of bans. The "banatics" can ignore both scientific and legal arguments, as the public is still intensely plastiphobic. Even many of those who are against the bans believe that plastics are "bad," but their advantages outweigh their evils. Will education solve the problem? I'm not so sure. I am very interested in learning why the public is so afraid of plastics, and welcome communication from anyone who is seriously working in this area. 

4.  The Hard Stuff. This was the title of a Plastics Recycling session and refers not to actual hardness, but to the difficulty of recycling film and foam. Bottles, by comparison, are easy. BTW, if anyone talks to you about all the plastic bottles in the Great Pacific Gyre, remind them that the water bottles, as well as all the beverage bottles, are made of PET, which does not float.

The SPE luncheon speaker was Mike Biddle, one of the most successful and eloquent recyclers around, who manages to support plastics and still earn the respect of the serious defenders of the world. As he runs a large and successful recycling company so he has walked the walk, and as long as you think recycling is the answer, he's on your side. You can listen to him at Ted.com

This isn't just March Madness, either. The opportunities for networking in this area abound - too many to list here. I counted seven in April, another seven in May, and eight more in June, and that's just USA/Canada. There are many more in Europe and elsewhere, places like Shanghai, Moscow and Amsterdam, and what's said there is important to us here in North America, as recycling is already an international business.

Stay tuned. We may save the earth from the scourge of loose plastics yet.

ULS-FOS-TANA = Use Less Stuff, Fix Old Stuff, Throw Almost Nothing Away.

Allan Griff is a Plastics Engineer who does public and private training seminars as well as general consulting and webinars in his specialized areas of extrusion and the environment. He lives in California and can be reached at [email protected], website www.griffex.com

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