As communities across the United States struggle to find new end markets for recyclables affected by China’s import restrictions, one commodity is bucking the trend: food and beverage cartons.
Postconsumer cartons continue to be in demand and have good end markets, even at a time when markets for other commodities are decreasing. China has never been a market for bales of grade No. 52 cartons from the U.S., so communities can and should continue to recycle cartons.
Cartons are made primarily of high-quality fiber that should not end up in landfills. One common misconception about cartons is that they can’t be recycled or are hard to recycle because they have multiple layers. Gable-top cartons, the kind that package milk, creamer, egg whites and other refrigerated products, are made mostly of paper with thin layers of polyethylene to hold in the liquid. Aseptic, or shelf-stable, cartons that package juice drinks, soups, wine and other nonrefrigerated products also contain a layer of aluminum to block out light and oxygen.
Cartons are recyclable, and collected grade No. 52 cartons have several domestic and international end markets. At a paper mill, the layers in cartons are broken down and separated. The pulp is used to make new paper products, and the polyethylene and aluminum can be used to generate energy or are sold to manufacturers that use them for lumber-board-like materials. A second, growing end-market option is manufacturers similar to Continuus Materials in Des Moines, Iowa, that use the entire carton to make eco-friendly building and construction products through a process that uses no water or chemicals. The polyethylene and aluminum components (including the caps and straws) act as a binding agent when combined with the fiber, and are recycled into roof cover board, wallboard and other building materials.
To get the highest value, the Carton Council recommends material recovery facilities (MRFs) sort cartons into grade No. 52. If not sorted by themselves, cartons are generally baled with mixed paper, which isn’t optimal for achieving the highest quality and value.
For recycling coordinators and other recycling educators, this means cities and counties can continue to recycle cartons with confidence or start including cartons in their recycling programs. Now more than ever, communities must educate residents that recycling the right materials is important and critical to keeping recyclables out of landfills while eliminating contamination.
Research proves this point. A study released by the Carton Council of North America last year found that nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of people believe recycling is important and should be a priority. Americans don’t just think recycling should be a priority. They are acting on it. The survey also found that 61 percent of respondents said they always recycle their food and beverage cartons, up from 50 percent in the previous survey conducted in 2015.
Recent negative and confusing information about recycling provides a good opportunity for communities to educate residents about items that should and shouldn’t be recycled. When part of a community’s recycling program, food and beverage cartons should be listed on the community website and in all educational materials as recyclable. Residents just need to empty them and toss them into their recycling bins. No need to crush them or remove the caps.
Despite challenges facing the recycling industry, the public wants and believes in recycling. The overwhelming majority of people surveyed by the Carton Council (94 percent) said they supported recycling, and nearly all cited environmental or altruistic reasons for recycling. Additionally, they have high expectations for brands, expecting them to actively help boost the recycling of packages they use.
As communities look for ways to improve the viability of recycling, some MRFs are turning to better technology for sorting cartons. The Carton Council is proud to have pioneered the introduction of robots in recycling in collaboration with other forward-thinking stakeholders. In 2017, we partnered with Amp Robotics, Denver, to pilot the first recycling robots at Alpine Waste and Recycling in Denver and Dem-Con Cos. in Minneapolis.
The robots are programmed to recognize carton designs, logos and shapes and learn as they go using artificial intelligence. They can pick up to 80 cartons per minute, require less investment and take up less space than other types of automated sorting technologies. The knowledge learned over time can be transferred to other systems across the country, further increasing the effectiveness of carton recycling.
Today, robots are being installed to sort cartons as well as other materials across the country. They can provide an efficient way for facilities to sort cartons into grade No. 52.
Advancements in technology at MRFs and the development of new and expanded end markets for cartons allow communities to continue and strengthen recycling programs for cartons. Now is not the time to scale back on the progress made in carton recycling. Instead, it is the time to reiterate the recyclability of cartons and take steps to ensure postconsumer cartons are captured and turned into new products.
Derric Brown is vice president of sustainability for the Carton Council of North America and director of sustainability for Evergreen Packaging, Memphis, Tennessee.
The types of end-of-life vehicles recyclers will handle in the mid-21st century will depend on how high electric vehicle market share can reach.
How end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recycling practices evolve in 20 years could vary greatly in different nations, according to presentations at the 2019 E-Mobility & Circular Economy (EMCE 2019) conference. That event, organized by Switzerland-based ICM AG and held in Tokyo July 1-3, included projections on how many electric vehicles (EVs) could be produced and sold in the approaching decades.
Didier Marginèdes of France-based EV battery producer Blue Solutions said the world is becoming increasingly urban, which ties in to the growing popularity of EVs. Cities take up just 1 percent of the Earth’s footprint, but consume 78 percent of the planet’s energy, he remarked.
The urban transportation grid may favor more public transportation, but also more ride sharing and potentially more autonomous vehicles that could be increasingly powered by electricity.
Ride sharing alone could reduce the number of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles on the road, according to a survey cited by Marginèdes. That survey found that nearly 80 percent of people in China, nearly 50 percent in Europe and almost 40 percent in the United States would be willing to forego car ownership if future ride sharing services are deemed sufficient.
Also spurring a shift away from the ICE vehicles recyclers are accustomed to handling is legislation in places like the Netherlands and Norway that phases out the sale of passenger ICE vehicles.
A forecast cited by Marginèdes predicts 30 percent EV market share in the United States in 2030, lagging the 40 percent predicted for Europe. China, whose government has been boosting the research, production and purchase of EVs, could see 50 percent EV market penetration by 2030.
Professor Weng Duan of Tsinghua University in Beijing says that same government support has helped China raise its production of new energy vehicles (NEVs) from around 75,000 produced and sold in 2014 to closer to 1.2 million in 2018. NEVs include EVs and hybrid vehicles.
The rapid increase now means China is home to about two-thirds of the NEVs on the road globally, according to Weng.
On the electric bus side, Marginèdes says China’s global percentage is even greater, with approximately 330,000 of the world’s 380,000 electric-powered buses (86.8 percent) located in China.
Recyclers accustomed to handling large numbers of ICE vehicles annually may need to prepare for these different types of vehicles, and quite possibly fewer of them. If ride-sharing becomes more common, said Marginèdes, anywhere from 7 to 17 private cars (typically used one hour per day) could be replaced by a single more frequently used shared vehicle.
EMCE 2019, which featured plant tours, workshops, conference sessions and an exhibit hall, was July 1-3 at the Westin Tokyo.
Equipment company Andritz, Austria, has received an order from the Italy-based paper company Cartiere del Polesine to rebuild an existing old corrugated container (OCC) line, including reject treatment, at its mill in Adria, Italy.
In addition to all main process components, Andritz will install two PrimeScreen X machines for primary-stage fine screening as well as fractionation. Startup for the new line is expected to begin early next year.
The line will have an annual production capacity of 400 metric tons of OCC and will be able to accept special waxed paper as a raw material.
Cartiere del Polesine is a producer of containerboard products. The company operates four machines at two paperboard mills and produces 300,000 metric tons of containerboard per year.
Two Brothers Scrap Metal, Farmingdale, New York, has awarded an environmental conservation scholarship to a Farmingdale High School student. Mark Santiago (left), manager of Two Brothers Scrap Metal, and Jessica Finkel (right), Farmingdale High School student, are pictured.
During the school’s annual awards ceremony June 10, Finkel was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Two Brothers. This is the third year that Two Brothers has awarded this competitive scholarship to a student who intends to study either environmental science or engineering while in college.
CRU, London, and FRH Aluminum, Lenoir City, Tennessee, plan to host the Aluminum Recycling Technical Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The conference will be held at the Radisson Hotel Nashville Airport Oct. 15 and 16.
CRU and FRH Aluminum’s Bob Hubbard will host the technical conference dedicated to the aluminum scrap market. Hubbard has spent 49 years in the aluminum industry. He began his career at Pittsburgh-based Alcoa in 1970 and held various technical and management positions throughout his 20 years at the company. Hubbard spent 27 years working for IMCO, Aleris, and Real Alloy, Beachwood, Ohio, where he worked with aluminum melting, scrap and dross recovery and alloy specifications. Hubbard left the company in 2017 and started working at FRH Aluminum.
Industry experts from Wendt Corporation, TSI Inc., JT Thorpe, Amcor, Mechatherm International and several other companies will present on new technology concepts and best practices to educate attendees on the benefits of efficiently sourcing, preparing, receiving, sorting and recovering aluminum scrap. CRU and FRH Aluminum say the conference is an opportunity to hear from speakers as well as exchange experiences with other key players in the industry in an informal learning and networking environment.
Given the current dynamics at play in the U.S. scrap and primary aluminum markets, the importance of the efficient use of aluminum scrap is unprecedented, the companies say.
According to CRU, companies operating at any point in the aluminum value chain could benefit from this technical conference, especially those in the secondary, rolling, extrusion, forging and casting segments. Area supervisors, production and plant managers, purchasing specialists, strategic planners, owners, chief financial officers and CEOs are invited to attend the conference and join the discussion.
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