Beating the price pinch
By Michael LeGault, editor
With resins prices rising, many Canadian processors have come to depend even more heavily than usual on recycled content to maintain their cost competitiveness and current margins. Yet, the chronic sh...
With resins prices rising, many Canadian processors have come to depend even more heavily than usual on recycled content to maintain their cost competitiveness and current margins. Yet, the chronic shortage of post-consumer PET, PE, PVC and other resins has forced both reclaimers and processors to rely on a mixed supply of reclaimed materials, which often includes higher percentages of post-industrial scrap and regrind.
“We’re definitely seeing a change in the market,” says Bill Gosse, part-owner of recycler The Norwich Plastics Group, headquartered in Cambridge, Ont. “More generators of post-industrial scrap are interested in using their own product.”
Gosse reports that NPG is increasingly offering tolling process services in which it buys scrap and sells it back as usable regrind or compounded material to the same company that generated it.
NPG mainly buys flexible PVC, along with a small amount of rigid PVC, from industrial sources in North America. It sells PVC regrind, pellets, powder and compounded materials to customers located mostly in North America. The company, which will process about 100 million lb. of material this year, can supply compounded PVC with a durometer rating ranging between 55 to 95 Shore A. Current applications for the company’s recycled resin include garden and air hose, footwear, automotive and construction extrusion profiles, pipe and others.
The trend toward in-house use of scrap by processors has brought another challenge for reclaimers, Gosse reports. “Our customer is out biggest competitor. We have to be more efficient than he is in order to offer him something he can’t get himself.”
Demand driving supply — and vice versa
Finding a reliable, high-quality supply of scrap or regrind is often the key for a processor seeking to institute innovative and profitable recycling practices. Savvy use of post-industrial waste helped Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings grab the SPE’s 1999 Recycler of the Year honor. The Georgia-based company manufacturers a vinyl carpet backing system made of 100 percent recycled materials. The product only contains 20 to 25 percent post-consumer waste, with the balance coming from in-plant waste and vinyl trimmings supplied by makers of automotive interior products.
Four years ago Groupe Lavergne (Ville d’Anjou, Que.) began making PET sheet from recycled post-consumer bottles, selling 10 million lb. of the material last year. In the last eight months, demand for the sheet has grown to 20 million lb. The sheet, which sells for 20 to 30 percent less than sheet made from virgin PET, is used in a variety of non-food packaging applications, such as clamshells for consumer items and toys and trays for industrial packaging used in the computer and other industries.
According to Larry Koester, marketing and sales, Groupe Lavergne, the company also sells about 12 million lb. of glass-fibre filled PET, as well as approximately 30 million lb. of polypropylene-based and TPO resins.
The glass-fibre filled PET is sold in three grades, 30 and 40 percent glass-fibre content, and a 35 percent glass-fibre/mica-filled grade. Koester says the filled PET exhibits good heat and dimensional stability. One of the largest applications for the material is currently a headlamp retainer molded by Guide Corp. for GM’s Montana, Yukon and Sierra trucks.
The company’s business philosophy, as defined by owner Jean-Luc Lavergne, is not to be just a recycler, but a provider of value-added products that meet or exceed customers expectations.
Koester says the company is looking to buy baled PET bottles, copolymer polypropylene regrind, PC regrind, ABS regrind and injection molding grade HDPE regrind. It has plans to soon purchase a new twin-screw extruder, in addition to the four single-screw and one twin-screw extruders it already owns.
NPG has focused on reclaiming PVC scrap because of a readily available supply, says Gosse, but would like to extend its market to include other commodity materials. It is particularly interested in developing more closed-loop tolling processing business with companies having large scrap reprocessing requirements.
Innovation spurs recycling
The R2000 Congress held this year in Toronto highlighted the importance of cutting-edge research to the plastics recycling industry. Such research and innovations are another tool through which processors and reclaimers alike can realize recycling objectives.
Daniela Stoica reported on a new mechanical-chemical technology for recuperation of rigid polyurethane foam waste. The rigid PU waste is ground into pieces with dimensions 20 to 50 mm and then mixed with polyol and isocyanate in a 1:1 mixture. The unhomogeneous mixture is molded into plates suitable for insulation of walls, basements and ceilings.
L. Tamboer reported on state-of-the-art cable recycling in the Netherlands. Worldwide over 5 million tons of cable are disposed each year. In the Netherlands cable was previously burned to recover valuable metal components. About 70 percent of the polymeric material around cable consists of high-quality cable PVC, while the remaining fraction tends to be a mix of rubber and cross-linked PE. The new technique uses float sink or hydroclonage in water to separate X-PE from the PVC and rubber.
James Brown, Plas-Sep Ltd., London Ont., presented a technology for electrostatic separation of mixed plastic waste. This dry, low-cost process was invented at the University of Western Ontario and has been scaled up to a commercial size of one tonne/hr. In the process, chopped dry particles (5 to 10 mm) of mixed plastics are fed continuously into the upper end of a rotating drum. As the particles tumble they become charged. When two dissimilar non-conducting particles come into contact, charge is transferred and one of the particles becomes negatively charged and the other positively charged. In a mixture of PE and PP, the negatively charged PE falls onto a conveyor near the positive electrode and the PP particles are drawn off on the negative side. Brown reports that binary 50:50 mixtures of polymers will generally be separated to above 99 percent purity with approximately an 80 percent yield.
Joseph David Choldo presented a paper on the feasibility of using so-called smart materials to cheapen disassembly costs of mixed material products such as cars and computers during recycling. The technology, called ‘active disassembly using smart materials’ (ADSM) is relatively new but proven in the development setting. The idea is to use smart materials in the design of releasable fasteners and actuators at the manufacturing stage. The smart materials dramatically change elastic modulus within a narrow temperature range, which, when reached, makes it possible to more easily disassemble sub-assemblies, housings and a variety of other components.
With society and business facing on-going pressures to reduce, reuse and recover, processors and reclaimers will no doubt play an integral part in the search for better and more cost effective ways to recycle.
Papers from the R 2000 Congress can be ordered by calling Mr. Gord Landon at 905/477-7000, ext. 4895.