Changing Plastics Recycling Through Polymer Innovation

Plastic is the primary material used in packaging consumer goods worldwide, but only 14% of that plastic is recycled, and even less is recycled for similar purposes. This is a missed opportunity of an estimated $80-120 billion in potential revenue, according to a new report released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

When a chemical breakthrough occurs that offers cost-effective repurposing solutions to plastics manufacturers, waste generators should rejoice as well. According to Science Daily, a team of chemists from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota have recently discovered a multi-block polymer that can combine polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) recyclables without compromising quality or strength.

Though polyethylene and polypropylene have similar material applications, they have different chemical structures, making them difficult to merge into new products at a low cost. As a result, recyclable plastic packaging is not generating its full revenue potential.

Of the 78 million tons of packaging plastic:

  • A mere 2% is recycled and reused for similar purposes.
  • About 14% is incinerated and/or used in energy recovery.
  • About 34% pollutes the environment.
  • And 40% is landfilled.

That's 98% of packaging plastic lost to the recyclables market! However, the team's finding could potentially revolutionize manufacturing of mixed PE (light-density polyethylene and high-density polyethylene) and PP plastic products by offering a low-cost processing alternative. The newly-discovered multi-block polymer can be used in concentrations as low as 1% as compared to the 10% needed with standard additives. The result is a stronger plastic alloy without diminished quality.

Waste generators may have an opportunity to profit from this latest discovery. This alternative additive could boost demand of commercial recyclable waste in a couple of ways:

  • The newfound polymer has the potential to combine polyethylene and polypropylene into an entirely new class of mechanically tough materials. This will lead to the development of new material markets using pre-existing plastic grades. Basically, it means new uses for the same waste streams and a steady flow of additional revenue.
  • The cost-effective and quality-preserving polymer could allow recycled PE and PP to compete with virgin plastics, resulting in an overall rise in demand in existing recyclable markets.

Waste streams are a potential financial asset for commercial businesses, such as grocery stores, repacking and distribution warehouses, department stores, food processors, beverage bottlers, and a variety of manufacturers. Berg Mill Supply is capable of handling and marketing all grades of plastics, including HDPE and LDPE packaging plastics used to manufacturer protective films, bottles, drums, buckets, and liners. We work with our clients to:

  • Develop recycling strategies based on sound budgetary analyses and industry-specific business needs.
  • Find the best "home" for their materials to maximize profits.
  • Create niche markets for difficult-to-place materials.

If you're interested in tapping into new and existing material markets, contact Berg Mill Supply to transform your waste into a financial resource.

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