Plant That Will Recycle Polypropylene, Volume 11, Issue 4

Plant That Will Recycle Polypropylene

Volume 11, Issue 4

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Plant Recycles Polypropylene



Polypropylene (PP) is commonly used in packaging, but less frequently recycled than other popular packaging plastics such as high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate. That recycling rate and the ability to produce PP packaging with recycled content may begin to shift with startup of a plant that will recycle PP.


The patented technology was born in the labs of P&G, Cincinnati, OH, and licensed to PureCycle, a portfolio company of Innventure, a Wasson Enterprise Partnership, Chicago, IL. Founded in 2015, PureCycle is starting up a feedstock evaluation unit in Lawrence County, Ohio, to calibrate the PP recycling process. Slated to begin operating in January 2018, the unit is expected to continue operations after the full-scale plant opens in 2020.

“This is a case where a hundred-billion-dollar industry required new technology to meet a compelling, unmet need,” says Mike Otworth, CEO of PureCycle Technologies. “Both manufacturers and consumers have signaled a strong preference for recycling plastics, which otherwise pollute oceans, landfills and other natural places. Until now, recycled PP had limited applications. We’re single-handedly removing those limitations and giving companies the choice to use more sustainable, recycled resins.” At present, PureCycle has the only technology able to meet that demand.

“Our approach to innovation not only includes products and packaging, but technologies that allow us and others to have a positive impact on our environment. This technology, which can remove virtually all contaminants and colors from used plastic, has the capacity to revolutionize the plastics recycling industry by enabling P&G and companies around the world to tap into sources of recycled plastics that deliver nearly identical performance and properties as virgin materials in a broad range of applications,” says Kathy Fish, P&G’s chief technology officer.

“In the U.S. alone, the demand for virgin-quality recycled PP is immense. The Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), Washington, DC, has identified 1 billion pounds of recycled PP demand in North America alone. 720 million pounds of that demand is for ‘high-quality’ recycled PP,” reports Steve Alexander, CEO of the APR.

Although P&G-developed the technology, the recycled PP will be widely available for purchase. This technology demonstrates P&G’s commitment to sustainability and helps achieve its 2020 recycling goals (doubling use of recycled resin in plastic packaging and ensuring 90% of product packaging is either recyclable or programs are in place to create the ability to recycle it).


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Scheufelen Makes Paper From Grass

Traditional paper, paperboard and corrugated are considered renewable materials. However, the trees that provide the wood fiber typically used for these packaging materials grow relatively slowly and raise concerns about the environmental impact of logging and deforestation.


Papierfabrik Scheufelen GmbH + Co. KG, a paper factory in Lenningen, Germany, has what could be described as an ultra-sustainable alternative, grass paper made from 50% fresh fibers from sun-dried, locally harvested perennial grass. Processing occurs at an integrated production site in Lenningen, operated jointly with development partner Creapapier GmbH, Hennef, Germany.

Scheufelen reports its grass paper prints well, costs less and carries a lower environmental impact than other globally available fresh fiber pulps. The lower environmental impact stems from a dramatic reduction in process water requirements (less than 1L/ton of grass fiber pulp, compared to a few thousand liters per ton of wood fiber pulp), a massive energy saving of up to 80%/ton for fresh fiber material and elimination of process chemicals.

The material has been certified by ISEGA, Aschaffenburg, Germany, as suitable for food packaging and is recyclable, compostable and FSC-Mix certified (FSC® C009951). Packaging applications include containerboard, liners and folding cartons. Scheufelen distributes different grades of grass paper under the brand name greenliner for container board and liner and phoenogras, a combination of grass paper with its high-white fresh fiberboard phoenolux, for high-end packaging. At present greenliner board/liner is available in weights of 80, 90, 105, 130 and 200 grams/sq. meter (gsm); phoenogras fiberboard weighs in at 360 gsm.  

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Process Converts Pectin To Bioplastic

A patented biochemical process converts pectin derived from citrus fruit peels or sugar beet pulp to an aldaric acid, which in turn can be chemically converted to monomers for biobased polyesters and polyamides.


Used primarily as a gelling agent in foods and beverages, pectin is widely available. However, only 40,000 metric tons are used per year, a fraction of the potential supply. Technology, developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, headquartered in Espoo, combines biotechnical and chemical reaction steps to produce furan dicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and muconic acid from aldaric acids. FDCA is a monomer for polyethylene furanoate, a biobased alternative to polyethylene terephthalate. Muconic acid is a precursor for polyamide monomers.

Cost and lifecycle analyses predict the biobased monomers carry a smaller price tag and carbon footprint than petroleum-based monomers.  

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Pallets Earn ‘Biopreferred’ Label

Inca brand molded wood pallets and molded wood core plugs from Litco International, Inc., Vienna, Ohio, have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) BioPreferred® program. The products now may display the “USDA Certified Biobased Product” label.


The USDA BioPreferred certification reinforces Litco’s position as a sustainability leader in transport shipping products. Litco’s Inca molded wood pallets and core plugs were the first to be Cradle to Cradle Certified (CM) by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, Charlottesville, VA, for their ingredient chemistry, design and recycling capabilities.

“Biobased certification for Litco’s core plugs and pallets helps to demonstrate our commitment to the sustainability of our company’s offering of molded wood products,” says Gary Sharon, vice president of Litco International. “As participants in the General Services Administration (GSA) purchasing program (GSA Contract Number: GS-025-099BA), we are proud of our ability to help the federal mandate to purchase biobased, sustainable packaging and transportation products.”

Inca molded wood products are made from wood waste and resin. Innovative design and construction result in a pallet that’s 60% lighter than a conventional hardwood pallet with a nestable configuration that saves space in shipping and warehousing. Like new hardwood pallets, the molded wood pallets are durable, strong, stiff and recyclable and offer some reusability. The lighter weight substantially reduces the amount of materials and energy to make the product and the costs associated with shipping.

undefinedUSDA’s Certified Biobased Product label provides useful information to consumers about the content of a product. This label assures a consumer that the product contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients.

The BioPreferred Program was developed to showcase sustainable products, promote use of renewable agricultural resources and reduce reliance on petroleum. Designed to increase the purchase and use of biobased products, the BioPreferred program was created by the 2002 Farm Bill. The Federal Acquisition Regulation directs that all federal agencies purchase Biobased products in categories (currently 97) identified by USDA.  

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Hormel Supports Gardens, Pollinators

Sustainability efforts continue to expand at companies around the country. One of the latest efforts at Hormel Foods, Austin, MN, is an expansion of the pollinator garden at its corporate headquarters.


Other parts of the company are doing their part too. Justin’s, Boulder, CO, a maker of nut butters, nut butter snacks and organic peanut butter cups, which was acquired by Hormel in 2016, recently pledged to help restore, protect and conserve bees and other pollinators. Justin’s is focusing its efforts on creating awareness and educating consumers on pollinator decline by partnering with key players at the national, state and local level.

Justin’s also helps sponsor the sixth annual Bee Earth Day, organized by Boulder-based Growing Gardens. During the event it shares regionally appropriate wildflower seed bombs, Justin’s® products and information about pollinator conservation to draw awareness to the issue and the work that Justin's is doing to combat pollinator decline.

“When we heard about the Justin’s initiative, we knew we wanted to do something to support their efforts,” says Jim Snee, president and CEO of Hormel Foods. “We are proud to announce our commitment to expand our existing pollinator garden at our world headquarters in Austin, Minnesota.” Hormel Foods is also encouraging its employees to plant regionally appropriate wildflowers and distributed free seed packets to its headquarters workforce. 

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PAC Offers Online Course

An online course, Sustainable Packaging & Optimization, is part of an extensive educational program offered by PAC, Packaging Consortium, an association representing the packaging value chain and headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The 40-minute, four-session, online course addresses elements of sustainable packaging design including circular economy concepts, life cycle thinking and design for recycling. The optimization component takes a more holistic approach and encompasses the entire packaging value chain. Content includes case studies and a 12-step approach to setting up an effective packaging optimization program. The course fee is CAD$99 for members, CAD$129 for nonmembers. 

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Change The Pallet Prompts Action

Change the Pallet, Portland, Oregon, wants everyone that ships or receives goods to switch from wood pallets to lighter, recyclable corrugated pallets. According to the group, the change would result in a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, eliminate shipping pounds, allow more goods to be shipped on fewer trucks and save consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars.

Now wood-pallet-free for five years, IKEA®, a household furnishings manufacturer and retailer founded in Sweden and headquartered in Delft, The Netherlands, confirms the benefits of switching to corrugated pallets. Since directing more than 1000 global suppliers, spanning 51 countries, to begin shipping to its distribution centers on corrugated pallets, the retailer has realized:

  • An annual savings of more than $200 million in shipping costs
  • A 15% increase in truck efficiency—meaning 15% fewer trucks to ship the same amount of product
  • A reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 75,000 metric tons.

Meanwhile the Change the Pallet campaign, which began in 2015 as a project of The Forward Edge Initiative, a Portland-based nonprofit, is experiencing some success. The group certified its first company as wood pallet-free in November 2016, and Havorford College, Havorford, Pennsylvania, recently became the first U.S. university or college to Change the Pallet.

Info-Data Services (IDS), North Kansas City, MO, a national scanning and data management firm, is the first company in the United States to be certified by the nonprofit to be “Wood Pallet Free.” Nick Abernathy, owner and president of IDS says: “Someday wood pallets will be banned for deliveries to all U.S. hospitals and college campuses. We’re proud to be proving that it makes for smart business too.”

“IDS deserves global attention and applause for its visionary decision to ban wood pallets from its business,” says Adam Pener, executive director of Change the Pallet. “Much like someone was the first person to put out a recycling barrel in the 1970s, IDS is the first U.S. company to stand up and yell, ‘No more wood pallets.’ We look forward to certifying…many more [organizations] as ‘Wood Pallet Free.’”

Havorford College recently asked suppliers of products ranging from office supplies to food and beverage to deliver to its campus on lightweight, recyclable, corrugated pallets. The school expects to save money and reduce carbon emissions associated with the deliveries.

Havorford’s action comes one year after Change the Pallet wrote to the presidents of more than 300 U.S. colleges and universities, asking them to use their buying power to encourage or require suppliers to ship to campuses on corrugated pallets to reduce emissions and waste. “Haverford is setting an historic precedent, and we hope their message rings loud and clear,” says Pener. “There is simply no reason for deliveries to campuses, hospitals and government facilities to be on 50-pound wood pallets when lightweight, sturdy, sterile, and fully recyclable options are available,” he concludes.

Why Corrugated Pallets?

Change the Pallet cites five reasons to make the switch from wood to corrugated pallets.

  1. Corrugated pallets weigh 80% less than wood pallets. With more than 2 billion wood pallets in circulation in the United States, an 80% reduction in weight would significantly decrease fuel consumption and carbon emissions.
  2. Unlike wood pallets, corrugated pallets can be shaped to fit any product specification. This means entities can load trucks more efficiently and decrease the number of trucks needed to haul the same amount of product, reducing their carbon footprint and saving money.
  3. Corrugated pallets are 100% recyclable, saving the recipient time and money.
  4. Wood pallets cause worker injuries that are costly to the individual and the companies for which they work.
  5. Wood pallets aren’t sterile. Many are treated with toxic chemicals and/or have contaminants on them from previous shipments. This poses potential health risks to consumers.

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Hallie Forcinio has covered packaging-related environmental topics for more than 25 years, first as an editor on Food & Drug Packaging magazine (now Packaging Strategies) and more recently as a freelance packaging journalist and principal of Forcinio Communications, an editorial services firm. “My interest in the environment dates back to a high school government class,” she notes. “I was collecting glass, newspapers and aluminum cans for recycling long before my community had a curbside recycling program.” In addition to preparing the TricorBraun Sustainability Times, she contributes articles to numerous trade publications including Pharmaceutical Technology, Dairy Foods and National Provisioner. She also serves as editorial director of the PACK EXPO Show Daily.

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