Rumpke, Eastman Partner to Divert Hard-to-Recycle PET Waste

Residents bring recycling bin towards Rumpke truck

(Credit: Rumpke)

by | Feb 13, 2024

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Rumpke Waste & Recycling and Eastman are collaborating to recycle colored plastic packaging and other hard-to-recycle PET waste.

Through the partnership, Rumpke will collect these plastics and deliver them to be processed through Eastman’s molecular recycling process, starting later this year. Recycled materials, made into virgin-quality polyesters, may be used to make new packaging of equal quality as the original material.

Colored and opaque PET packaging has generally been unable to transition to circular operations due to additives and colorants that cannot be removed through conventional recycling processes. Eastman’s process breaks down plastics to the molecular level in order to make new products and reportedly causes fewer carbon emissions than conventional, fossil-based recycling processes.

“Rumpke and Eastman are both committed to innovative approaches to reducing plastic waste through collaboration,” said Brad Lich, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Eastman. “This partnership reinforces the complementary nature of molecular and mechanical recycling to keep more raw materials in the circular economy enabling brands to meet their recycled content goals.”

Processes Address Recycled Quality, Greater Range of Plastics

Conventional mechanical recycling, currently the industry standard, is unable to process certain plastics such as fast food containers, colored plastic bottles, or plastic eyeglass frames. Further, recycled materials can only be processed a finite number of times since plastic degrades slightly each time it is recycled. Mechanical recycling therefore doesn’t allow for a truly circular plastics economy — rather, it delays plastics from entering the landfill.

“The world is currently grappling with a significant problem, with a large portion of plastic waste either not being collected for recycling, or is considered non-recyclable by traditional methods,” said Jeff Snyder, director of recycling at Rumpke. “This partnership creates a new market for hard-to-recycle colored and opaque waste that is not currently recycled today.”

Plastics continue to enter circulation in massive volumes, causing pollution and higher levels of emissions each year, especially as recycling rates for plastics remain low. Various institutions have developed new recycling methods, molecular recycling included, that may both address plastics that would otherwise enter landfills and help maintain quality despite recycling materials repeatedly.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, recently developed a recycling process that uses a cobalt-catalyzed reaction to turn plastics into alcohols, detergents, and other materials. Several other new systems incorporate chemical processes into plastics recycling to break down plastics for use in new products.

 

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