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PLASTICS RECYCLING
CONTINUES TO GROW

Q: Are Americans really reducing waste?

A: Yes. According to the EPA, the amount of waste Americans generate (prior to recycling and combustion efforts) has been steadily decreasing. In fact, plastic packaging -- which has undergone substantial source reduction efforts -- accounted for 3.9 percent of all waste generated in 1996, versus 5.5 percent in 1995. These numbers suggest that source reduction is succeeding. Because Americans are generating less waste, the amount going into landfills is decreasing -- 11 6 million tons in 1996 compared to 140 million tons in 1990.13

Recovery

Q: What is recovery?

A: Recovery is the process of obtaining materials or energy resources from solid waste. Recovered plastics might be recycled into new products or used in process engineered fuels, where collected plastics are processed with paper into fuel pellets and then used in conjunction with coal and other fuels in industrial boilers and utility plants.

Q: How much plastic is recycled?

A: The recycling of plastics continued to grow in 1997. More than 1.3 billion pounds of post-consumer plastics packaging were recycled in the United States.

Q: How does plastics recycling work?

A: Successful recovery of plastics -- like any material -- requires an infrastructure that can get plastics from the consumer and back into use as new products. The plastics recycling infrastructure has four parts:

Collection-Rather than being thrown away, plastics (primarily PETand HDPE) are collected for recycling. Curbside collection with other materials and drop-off at recycling centers are common plastics collection methods.

Handling-Plastics from collection programs are sorted to increase their value and compacted to reduce shipping costs.

Reclamation-In conventional recycling, sorted plastics are chopped, washed and converted into flakes or pellets that are then processed into new products. Advanced recycling technologies can take mixed plastics back to their original building blocks (monomers or petroleum feedstocks). These can then be recycled into a number of different products, including new plastics.

End-use-Reclaimed plastic pellets or flakes-or petroleum feedstocks-are used to manufacture new products.

 

Q: How many communities collect plastics for recycling?

A: Following an extensive nationwide survey in 1997, the American Plastics Council (APC) estimated that roughly one-half of all U.S. communities -- nearly 19,400 -- are collecting plastics for recycling, primarily PET and HDPE. Roughly 7,400 communities collect plastics at the curb, and approximately 12,000 communities collect plastics through drop-off centers. In addition, thousands of grocery stores in the United States accept plastic bags for recycling into new trash can liners and other products. The chart below shows how new community collection programs have increased in past years.

Q: Can some plastics from durable goods be recycled?

A: Yes. A primary challenge is collecting post-consumer plastics from durable goods in quantities of sufficient quality that make recycycing cost-effective.

Q: Why is sorting so important in plastics recycling?

A: There are different types of plastics, just as there are different types of metal, paper and glass. Steel and aluminum have to be separated before recycling, different colors of glass must be sorted and white office paper must be separated from newspapers and paperboard boxes. Each of the six common packaging plastics has performance characteristics that make it best suited for specific applications. Purchasers of recycled resins want to be sure that these properties are retained, so handlers sort plastics by resin type to command the highest market value.

Q: What can I recycle?

A: Since all community-recycling programs are basically independent of one another , what you can recycle depends on where you live. To find out what plastics recycling opportunities are available in your area, check with your county or town department of public works, look under "Recycling" in the Yellow pages, or contact your local hauler. The most common plastic resins collected at curbside are PET and HDPE, often used in soft drink bottles and milk, juice and water containers respectively. Not all types of plastics are generally recycled, and recycling facilities may not be available in some areas.

Q: What kinds of products are made with recycled plastics?

A: The variety of products made with recycled plastics is growing. Here are just a few examples:

Q: Can plastic be recycled back into food contact applications?

A: Today, some recycled plastics are used in food and beverage containers. Technical and economic barriers currently limit widespread use of recycled plastic packaging in direct contact with food.

Q: What are advanced recycling technologies?

A: The term advanced recycling describes a family of plastics recycling processes that yield a variety of versatile end products. Sometimes the term feedstock recycling or chemical recycling is used. These end products can be the building blocks from which plastics are made. By unlinking or unzipping plastics (polymers) to their original molecular components, recyclers can produce monomers or a petroleum product that can be made into monomers (the basic units from which plastics are made) or a number of other petroleum-based products. These developmental processes signal a significant technical breakthrough in plastics recycling technology because the products are identical to virgin feedstocks and monomers used to produce new plastics. Advanced recycling technologies are being researched to augment existing conventional mechanical systems as part of an integrated approach. They are designed to increase the volume of post-consumer plastics diverted from the waste stream and expand the variety of plastics that are recycled into new and useful products.


Wellman, Inc. the world's largest plastics recycler was the first toprocess PET containers and producer wastes into usable flake and pellets, and established the first close-the-loop recycling chain for a new generation of PET packaging and polyester fibers.

In 1993, Wellman introduced the first polyester textile fiber made from postconsumer PET packaging: Fortrel® EcoSpun®. A new generation of fiber that set the apparel and home fashions industries spinning, weaving and knitting for products as diverse as backpacks and blankets, T-shirts, sportswear, soft luggage and socks. That's an amazing success story that has won awards from the U.N. and the White House.

Today, Wellman leads the industry in state-of-the-art recycling, with the capacity to reclaim more than 2.5 billion PET bottles and containers annually, around the globe.

Wellman has transformed the ordinary PET container into a vital part of the polyester value chain. With the world's largest, most advanced plastics recycling facilities, we sort, clean and convert PET containers into pure polyester products through a proprietary extrusion process. Today, Wellman is the world's largest producer of recycled polyester fiber.

Full circle into the 21st century. Fiberfill, carpet fiber and industrial fibers are also the stuff of recycled PET, as well as recycled-content resins, sheet and thermoformed products marketed under the brand name Eco Clear.


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