Discussing some of the difficulties its faced when recycling thermoforms, CEO Dan Mohs of Placon, a North American leader in plastic packaging for the food, retail and medical device markets, stated at this year’s SPI Recycling Tech Summit, that some of the challenges may be overstated.
Thermoform recycling has its complexities. Having larger surface areas that can be covered by pressure sensitive labels which can present challenges to optical sorters, while using different adhesives than bottles are just some of the issues Placon’s EcoStar facility faces. EcoStar, opened by Placon in 2011 on its corporate campus, reclaims, recycles and extrudes post-consumer food and non-good grade rollstock from curbside collected polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and thermoforms, turning discarded PET back into rollstock for reuse as thermoformed packaging.
For over two years EcoStar has been purchasing 100 percent thermoform bales from throughout the U.S. and Canada. EcoStar engineers have been researching and testing ways to overcome labeling challenges by combining a ratio of 15 percent post-consumer thermoforms with post-consumer PET bottle content. The result of the two container types churning together in the recycling process has led to aggressive abrasion of the labels which has enabled the company to utilize the thermoforms in its rollstock blends. The abrading of labels by mixing the two material types has also reduced the need for caustic chemicals in the wash which are often necessary to breakdown strong label adhesives.
With thermoforms having more mass per unit than PET bottles, separation of thermoforms is easier than bottles according to Mohs. He recommends partnering with manufacturers who use post-consumer material and who can design packaging for future recyclability which includes adding smaller labels that are easily removable and can be optically read.
In 2014 alone EcoStar has recycled 1.2 million pounds of thermoforms. The facility’s extruded PET rollstock with approximately 10 percent recycled thermoform content is currently found in its stock retail and food packaging lines.