As a result of both recent and long-term market developments, GJ CRI has been forced to join hundreds of recycling programs nationwide in revising the types of plastics collected by our program. Due to insufficient end markets, we will no longer be accepting “blister” containers, commonly known in the plastics and recycling industry as “thermoform.”
Blister containers are considered ridged plastics by industry standards and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and resin codes. These types of containers are commonly used to package berries, salad greens, eggs, cupcakes and numerous other items. It is currently less expensive for manufactures to produce blister containers using virgin materials than it is for them to use recycled content. Over a period of several years, this situation has resulted in the loss of both domestic and foreign markets for blister containers, which are now considered a contaminant by plastic re – manufactures and must be removed from the materials stream. Transporting, sorting out, and disposing of blister is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and costly for both material collectors, like GJ CRI, and processing facilities. Therefore, it is no longer environmentally friendly nor economically feasible for programs like ours to continue collecting material for which there is no market demand, and consequently, no value.
We understand and appreciate that many residents are confused, frustrated, and possibly even angry that we must further restrict the types of plastics that are accepted by our program. However, we have logical and well researched reasons on which we have based our collection guidelines. These reasons take a while to explain, so please have patience as you read on and we will do our best to help you understand.
The Recycling Loop
Recycling is a series of steps which create a loop: The first step begins with you when you identify a recyclable item, toss it in the appropriate bag or bin, and place those at the curb or take them to a recycling drop-off. The second step is recovering those materials. This happens when crews such as ours collect the items and transport them to a collection facility. The third step is complex. It involves further sorting of the many types of items collected into separate commodities, identifying markets for the items, decontaminating the items according to market specifications, baling items for shipment, securing transportation, and then shipping them to recycling remanufactures or mills. Step four occurs at the remanufacturer or mill, where the material is shredded and cleaned, melted, or in some other fashion restructured into a form ready for use. The fifth step is when those individual commodities reach a manufacturer’s floor and are actually turned into new products to be shipped to retailers. The last and final step is when you as a consumer purchase those new products and complete the recycling loop.
The loop is also a complete economic system. As with any economic system there are multiple factors which affect market values. In this instance, low oil prices coupled with decreased demand from foreign markets has resulted in the inability of certain recycled plastics such as blister to compete with virgin material prices, resulting in the disappearance of markets for blister.
Re-manufacturing Processes Vary by Material Type
Recycling in itself is a seemingly simple idea. However, the processes involved in remanufacturing previously used materials such as steel, paper, glass, and plastics into new products vary considerably. For example, paper products such as newsprint, envelopes and packing paper are all made from plant based fibers, and multiple types of paper products can be combined and reprocessed into new paper products. Similarly, different steel items can be combined in the reprocessing of steel, so a steel soup can could be made from other cans, or even the metal lid from a glass jar. The process of remanufacturing or recycling plastics is vastly more complicated! Plastics are made of manmade polymers and consist of several different chemical compounds, many of which are totally incompatible with each other.
The Purpose of Resin Identification Codes (#1-#7)
As a recycler, you know that the bottom of most plastic containers is marked with a number from 1-7 which is surrounded by the “chasing arrows” recycling symbol. The numbers are resin codes which identify the type of chemical compound or resin the container is made of. The resin codes were adopted by the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1988 to provide a standard by which recycling facilities, manufactures, and re-manufactures could identify the different types of plastics. The codes were never designed, marketed or intended to be a guarantee of recyclability for consumers and, in truth, they have caused more confusion than clarity for the general public.
This goes to the question posed by many recyclers at this point, “It has a #1 on it, why isn’t it recyclable?” The difficult answer is “Because it is blister- that rigid, worthless, thermoform plastic!”
Sorting Plastics by Molding Methods is Critical to the Re-manufacturing Process
Plastic containers are manufactured using different kinds of molding techniques and equipment. For example, a plastic bottle is blow-molded, which means the resin is shaped by forcing air into it and the process is similar to that of blowing a glass bottle. In contrast, thermoform (blister) clamshells and trays are injection molded, which means that the resin is forced into a fixed mold to form its shape. Why are different molding techniques so important to the overall recycling process? Additional chemical additives are used in different molding processes. These additives affect the temperature at which resigns melt, their overall consistency and the rate at which they solidify. Therefore, a blow -molded bottle cannot be combined with an injection molded deli tray even if they share the same resin code.
A good analogy would be to think of making a plastic water bottle like blowing a bubble with a piece of chewing gum. Making a thermoform clamshell, in contrast, can be likened to pouring liquid gelatin into a mold. While many of the primary ingredients are the same, you can’t make jello out of chewing gum any more than you can blow a bubble with jello. To sum things up, if items with different resin codes or different molding techniques are mixed together in the remanufacturing or “recycling” process, the result is a worthless blob which is unsuitable for the production of new products.
To recycle or not to recycle? That is the question.
There is no getting around it, this is an ugly problem, and one that we have been grappling with for many months. For us, continuing to collect a worthless product that contaminates the plastic stream we are trying to keep in the recycling loop can no longer be the answer. Blister takes up valuable space in our recycling rigs and collection tanks and requires an enormous amount of staff time and energy to separate from the rest of the mix. That is why we must ask for assistance from the public. Here are two things you can do: 1) When you are thinking of recycling a plastic item because it has the familiar “ #1 ” in the recycling triangle on the bottom, ask yourself, “Is this a bottle, jar or jug?” If the answer is “no,” then it is blister. Put it in the trash instead! 2) When you go shopping look for other packaging options. Consider purchasing lettuce or bunched spinach which can be placed in a reusable produce bag, rather than those sold in a formed container. Can you buy your eggs in a paperboard carton, instead of a plastic one? Or could you stop by the self-service area of the bakery for muffins rather than grabbing them prepackaged?
You may continue recycling all those other plastic containers marked #1, #2 or #5, such as soda or water and detergent bottles, milk jugs, peanut butter jars, yogurt containers and margarine tubs.
GJ CRI has a longstanding commitment to only participate in and promote environmentally friendly and ethical recycling practices. In doing so, we have had to set and maintain a high standard for the materials collected by our program. This has involved an ongoing process of educating and enlisting the help of our customers to ensure only acceptable items are set out for collection. We want to thank the thousands of residents who have believed in our mission and taken our educational outreach to heart. Because you take the time and effort to properly sort items, and know what does and does not belong in your recycling containers, our program remains successful (when many have failed.) Domestic mills continue to find our materials exceptionally clean and desirable. As a result, our program is very rarely affected by market developments such as this one. This is an unusual circumstance.
We apologize for any inconvenience and want to thank you for your understanding and continued support.