PreZero, the San Diego-based recycling arm of German retailer Schwarz Group, is bringing its European recycling model to the United States. In 2020, the company is opening a low-density polyethylene (LDPE) processing plant in Jurupa Valley, California, which will include a 300,000-square-foot “environmental campus” with a sorting and plastics processing facility. In addition, the company is opening a mixed rigid plastics (MRP) processing plant in South Carolina in 2021. Combined, the facilities will have the capacity to process 100,000 tons of postconsumer plastics per year, said Hendrik Dullinger, vice president of expansion and innovation at PreZero, during the Hungry for More Plastics session at the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Oct. 23-25 in Chicago.
Ontario, Canada-based postconsumer plastics recycler EFS Plastics Inc. has made an opportunity out of China’s import ban by focusing on processing low-quality MRF-grade Nos. 3-7 plastics that were "heavily exported" in the past. EFS increased capacity at its Ontario facility by 40 percent last year and added a second operating line at its Pennsylvania facility this summer, increasing capacity by 50 percent. Eadaoin Quinn, director of business development and procurement at EFS Plastics, said the company is also looking to open a third facility on the West Coast.
At the same time, Clyde, Ohio-based Evergreen Plastics, which recycles postindustrial and postconsumer plastics, is installing new equipment and adding additional pellet capacity in response to demands from global brands, said Michael Sandoval, sales and procurement manager at Evergreen Plastics.
“We’re going to expand,” Sandoval said. “This is opportunity for us to improve our current systems, update technology, improve quality, maximize output and increase reclamation from 10 to 30 percent. There is future demand, so for us we need to increase our capacity to supply more.”
Installing a new wash system at Houston-based Avangard Innovative, which processes 40 million pounds of postconsumer plastics per year, will allow the company to process low-quality plastics, said Marcus San Juan, regional sales manager at Avangard Innovative. Avangard’s expansion plans include moving its Houston plant to Waller, Texas, which will increase capacity to 100 million pounds per year, as well as opening a plant in Mexico in mid-2020 and a facility in Nevada, which will be able to supply the California market.
Reprocessors see opportunity in states that have passed recycled content regulation. California’s statewide single-use carryout bag ban requires stores to not only provide a reusable grocery bag in place of single-use plastic bags, but for those bags to be made of 20 percent postconsumer recycled material. By 2020, the reusable bags must be made of 40 percent recycled material. Washington is also looking at a 40 percent recycled content requirement for grocery bags.
“Majority of sales of our film collected in Pennsylvania and Ontario is sold to the California market,” Quinn said.
Legislation “presents opportunities for us that are really important as virgin material pricing continues to go down,” she added. “We need legislation like that to keep this material moving. When there’s so much available for recycling, this type of regulation is important for the industry.”
San Juan and Dullinger said California’s legislation is also why they’re expanding in the California market. Dullinger said he’s seeing an excess of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) on the market due to Ontario, California-based rePlanet’s closure, while Quinn said there’s a lack of supply of PP (polypropylene). She pointed to the strong infrastructure the U.S. has created to collect PE, in which retailers have added collection points at the front end of stores. She said another problem is an estimated 72 communities in the U.S. have eliminated Nos. 3-7 plastics from recycling programs.
“That’s really disappointing to me,” she said. “Not all of them are dropping it, but that’s a real loss. That’s material that’s now going to landfill that we could be using in North America.”
Sandoval said while the How2Recycle label is helping, “people need to get better at recycling” and “brands need to develop packaging that is recyclable.”
“There’s a lot of bad press out there for plastics. I think it’s just wrongly placed,” Sandoval said. “We may need legislation. It’s going to happen if we can’t police ourselves. Someone is going to have to step in and force the issue.”
While the companies see a huge opportunity in global brands making commitments to use recycled content in products, Quinn said, “regulation is needed” and “that is what’s moving material today.”