The 70,000-square-foot EcoStar facility is dedicated to recycling PETE by reclaiming both plastic bottles and thermoforms and turning them into premium food and non-food grade flake and sheet. The facility runs 365 days a year, purchasing bales of curbside collected and deposited post-consumer PET bottles and mixed bales of post-consumer thermoform packaging. When building the EcoStar facility, test loads of PET thermoforms were used in order to design the plant with the capability to process them.
“Today, EcoStar is able to recycle 100% thermoform bales and use them directly in our sheet extrusion blend,” explains Megan Moore, process engineer at EcoStar. “We have produced sheet that is comprised of over 80% thermoform flake and used that sheet to manufacture BlisterBox® as well as custom thermoforms for a Fortune 100 consumer goods company with excellent results. We are also including thermoform flake as a component of our extrusion blend on a regular basis with consistently good outcomes as well.”
In 2009, NAPCOR stated that roughly 1.4 billion pounds of PET thermoform packages were produced in North America annually. Today, most municipalities still do not accept thermoform packaging for recycling. Despite this, EcoStar is forging ahead in a path to explore using thermoform bales in a composite mixture with bottle bales to give more versatility in processing; both in recycling as well as in extrusion.
In recent years, after rigorous studies and testing, EcoStar has been seeing major improvements in its extruded sheet properties. Recent improvements have come to fruition due to experience with material blends and processes as well as advances in technologies.
Despite the numerous complexities in the PET thermoform recycling process, EcoStar Plastics is forging ahead in the pursuit of “perfecting” the process to develop high quality flake and sheet from recycled thermoforms.
“There are a number of issues we are trying to address," states Moore. “Adhesives can be difficult to remove as can paper labels, resulting in a pronounced “amber” color in the extruded sheet. EcoStar is working alongside one of the largest labeling material manufacturers in the world to create an adhesive that allows labels to be removed in standard washing conditions in the recycling process.”
No matter what lies ahead for PET thermoform recycling, EcoStar’s goal has, and will continue to be, to proactively research, recycle and output high quality, recycled post-consumer PET materials while proactively promoting the recycling of these materials to consumers and businesses alike.