PPRC 2018: Making a profit off plastics recycling

Industry leaders report MRF operators can make profit from collecting, processing Nos. 3-7 plastics.

October 23, 2018

It’s a “tough time” for material recovery facilities (MRFs) amid China’s scrap import policy restrictions, but industry leaders said there’s still value in and “stable markets” for Nos. 3-7 plastics at Recycling Today’s Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference in Chicago.

Speaker Maite Quinn, managing director at New York City-based Closed Loop Partners, gave a model of how MRF operators can make a profit from collecting and recycling Nos. 3-7 plastics instead of sending the material to landfill.

Quinn’s area of focus is identifying industry trends. Prior to Closed Loop Partners, she was the director of business development and sales for New York-based Sims Municipal Recycling.

In 2013, Sims started going to third-party haulers and buying Nos. 3-7 plastics, Quinn told attendees of the session Nos. 3-7 Plastics Recycling: Where is it Going?

“In 2013, it was the Green Fence,” she said. “We thought, what about the 3-7 plastics everyone is starting to landfill. We slowly brought some material in. We saw there’s some value here and maybe we can continue doing it.”

After audits showed high percentages of return year after year, Sims continues to buy thousands of tons of Nos. 3-7 plastics a month, Quinn said.

“Initially, our operation said, ‘We don’t want this stuff.’ We pursued them. I think there’s value there and we shouldn’t be letting that 3-7 go to landfill,” she added.

Speaker Scott Saunders, general manager of KW Plastics, said the markets are good “if you can get the material sorted.” Headquartered in Troy, Alabama, KW Plastics processes a half billion pounds of Nos. 3-7 plastics annually.

“We did see a little pull back in material as people scrambled to correct issues with paper, but we’ve seen a 15 to 20 percent increase in our polypropylene buy and about a 25 percent increase in our bulky rigids that used to go to Asia,” Saunders said. “Thirty percent of 3-7 material is yogurt containers, bottles. It has good value. It’s stable. We have growing demand, so we’re excited about it, and it’s a great opportunity.”

Quinn added larger MRF operators can add Nos. 3-7 collections into their processing streams for an extra source of income, but she did not recommend it as a “standalone” operation.

“One of the reasons why it works at Sims is because they already have loose material coming in,” she said. “This is just extra capacity. I think that model of looking at just buying 3-7 could collapse. You need to be processing it as an extra capacity. Not as a standalone.”