Hello recycling experts, let's talk about PET thermoform recycling!

Posted by Chandler Slavin on May 21, 2013 12:02:00 PM

Hello my sustainable packaging friends!

Guess what?!

I have been asked by the Editor of Plastics in Packaging to write a technical article on the state of PET thermoform recycling, my favorite topic!

Having published “Recycling Report: the Truth about Blister/Clamshell Recycling in America with Suggestions for the Industry©” in 2010, I have observed with delight the progress in PET thermoform recycling; consequently, I am to the moon to write about these developments, which in my opinion, eloquently represent the power of collaboration and the value of industry proactivity.

There have been A LOT of developments in PET thermoform recycling and I have blogged about them often. From Canadian retailers mandating that all thermoforms transition to PET to stakeholders developing various working groups to tackle everything from issues of contamination to infrastructure to design to consumer education; the efforts have been thorough and far-reaching.

Such developments were arguably the mechanisms behind the findings of the recently published plastics REACH report, funded by the ACC and performed by Moore Recycling Associates, which found that 60% of American communities have access to facilities that recycle thermoformed packaging. Shall I say it again? The majority of communities have the ability to recycle PET thermoformed packaging, like the plastic clamshells Dordan manufactures. Holley Toledo. Upon hearing this news I literally jumped for joy, I couldn’t believe it. The recycling infrastructure, and adding a new material to it, is super complicated and requires a substantial investment in time and resources. It can be done, it just usually isn’t. But that is changing, and changing fast. And the fact that in just several years a product that was not recyclable is now considered to be as such speaks to the change in perception into the value of plastics. I sent an eBlast to everyone I knew, announcing the exciting news that clamshells are now officially recyclable; I even included a picture of a delicious cupcake with “congrats” written in sprinkles!

But, as I have learned time and time again, things are never as simple as they seem. Several days later I received an email from a friend I met while touring the sustainable packaging conference circuit; he is the Director of North Carolina’s Recycling Program and was a technical reviewer of the REACH study that found clamshells are now recyclable. Turns out, there is some concern that the studys' findings are being used a little, shall we say, haphazardously by the media and industry (what, not the right time to celebrate with a digital cup cake?!). He referred me to a letter he wrote to the Editor of Resource Recycling; here he outlines some of the incorrect assumptions made by people like moi about the report’s findings. Huh. Light bulb!

You know I am a sucker for transparency. Heck, people thought I was off my rocker when I published my Recycling Report, which explicitly stated that the clamshell packaging Dordan (and everyone else) manufactures is not “recyclable.” But look what happened, or was happening already!? Dialogue developed, alliances were made, and we all lived happily ever after. With the relationship between consumers and brands today being one based on trust, industry is no longer in a position to withhold realities while the kinks are being worked out in the boardroom. Sooo I am taking this opportunity to speak about the state of PET thermoform recycling as accurately and succinctly as possible in hopes of crystalizing the findings of the study to continue to engage dialogue that facilitates progress in PET thermoform recycling. I hope to achieve this goal by interviewing the thought leaders in this space and compiling their commentary in an easy to access, narrative based-format, similar to my Recycling Report. I wish to understand the reality of PET thermoform recycling, past, present, and future, and I hope my industry allies will help me on this endevour. Stay tuned.

Topics: Recycling thermoforms, Clamshell recycling, Recycling clamshells, Non-bottle rigid plastics recycling, PET recycling, ACC