^          p     .
                                                                        ard   Stu
               "This is a new-to-the-
                world industry with
                huge energy savings.
                Recycling plastics uses
                only roughly 10  percent
                of the energy that it
                takes to make a pound
                of plastic from virgin

                Dr. Mike Biddle
                MBA Polymers
                   Plastics in Products in MSW (1999)
                         soft drink  milk and   other  bags, sacks,  other
                          bottles water bottles containers  and wraps  packaging
         Of the estimated 22.4 million tons of plastics produced in the United
         States in 1998, only about 5.4 percent were recovered for recycling.
         Plastics  used in  durable goods (such  as cars,  electronics,  and appli-
         ances) account for the largest proportion by weight of plastics in
         U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW). However, the mixed waste streams
         characteristic of these harder, engineered plastics are difficult to
         separate and, thus, complex to recycle. New separation technologies
         could increase recycling rates for plastics significantly.

         Separating Plastics
         The technical difficulties and high cost associated with separating plastics have
         limited recycling in the past. Post-consumer products often contain as many as 20
         different types of plastic materials as well as non-plastic materials such as wood,
         rubber, glass, and fibers. In addition, the dynamic nature of the plastics business
         produces a steady stream of new products and pigment types, which can pose a
         challenge to the recycling infrastructure. Consequently, the cost of producing vir-
         gin  materials is often less than the cost of collecting and processing post-con-
         sumer plastics. Three new separation technologies, developed by MBA Polymers,
         Argonne  National Laboratory, and Recovery Plastics  International (RPI), could
         break down these barriers and increase plastics recycling.

         Automated Separation
         MBA Polymers, with early financial support from the American Plastics Council,
         U.S. Department of Energy NICE3 program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
         Department of Commerce (NIST ATP), State of California CalTIPP, and Vehicle
         Recycling Partnership, developed a process in which plastic scraps from computers
                      and other electronics are first ground into small pieces. Magnets
                      and eddy-current separators then extract ferrous and non-ferrous
                      metals. Paper and other lighter materials are removed with jets of
                      air.  Finally, a proprietary sorting, cleaning, and testing process
                      involving various technologies,  enables the company to separate
                      different types of plastics and compound them into pelletized
                      products comparable to virgin plastics.

                      Froth Flotation
                      Argonne National Laboratory (ANL),  with support from the U.S.
                      Department of Energy,  developed a process to separate acryloni-
                      trile-butadiene styrene (ABS) and high-impact polystyrene
                      (HIPS)—two common forms  of plastics—from recovered automo-
                      biles and appliances. The froth flotation process separates  two or
                      more equivalent-density plastics by  modifying the effective density

of the plastics. The  key to this tech-
nology is carefully controlling the
chemistry of the aqueous solution—
the "froth"—so that small gas bub-
bles attach  to the material's surface
and enable  the plastic  to float to
the top.

Skin  Rotation
Recovery Plastics International (RPI)
has developed an automated process
capable of recovering up to 80 percent
of the plastics found  in automobile
shredder  residue  (ASR). RPI predicts
that its new skin flotation technology
could divert  approximately one-third of
the estimated 7 million tons of ASR
disposed  of each year. The process
begins with  the separation of light lint
materials, followed by the  removal of
rocks  and metals, granulation, wash-
ing, and, finally,  automated "skin
flotation" separation. This final step
adds a skin of plasticizer to make the
surface of the targeted plastic
hydrophobic. Air bubbles then can
attach to the plastic, allowing it to
float above denser, uncoated pieces.
  Projected Energy Savings
        I virgin materials
Plastics recovery, in addition to
increased diversion from disposal,
results in significant energy savings
(an estimated 50-75 MBtu/ton of
material recycled) compared with the
production  of virgin materials.
Reducing energy use, in turn, leads to
reductions in greenhouse gas emis-
sions due to avoided fuel use.
Limiting the plastics that enter
landfills can lower the costs associ-
ated with waste disposal by reduc-
ing tipping fees. In addition, plas-
tics recyclers expect to sell recycled
plastic pellets for as much as 70
  Solid Waste and
  Emergency  Response
          ^  1
       primary  fuel use electricity  total
       energy          use    energy
        use                   use
percent of the typical price for vir-
gin plastics. Recyclers will profit
from selling their product, while
purchasers will benefit from the
reduced price of recycled plastic.

MBA Polymers has been fully  commer-
cial for more than a year. Ironically,
one of the greatest barriers to opera-
tional expansion is the lack of avail-
able material.  Computer recyclers
increasingly find it cheaper to export
intact units rather than dismantle the
units in the United States.  The market
demand for recycled plastic resin is
clearly growing, but the difficulty is
collecting the  material and getting it
to the  recyclers economically. A more
developed infrastructure is  needed to
provide separators with a constant
stream of source material.
The other separation technologies are
still largely pre-commercial The next
step for these  emerging technologies
is to conduct pilot studies and  estab-
lish permanent facilities.
The economic  viability of these sepa-
ration technologies is still largely
speculative, but projections made by
Argonne National Laboratory and
Recovery Plastics International inch'-
EPA 530-F-02-023
July 2002
cate that processing recycled plastics
will cost the same or less than manu-
facturing plastics from  virgin materi-
als. Operation costs for processing
recycled plastics are estimated in the
range of 10-20 cents per pound,
which should make recycled plastic
resin competitive with  costs for exist-
ing virgin plastics.
Initial capital costs can be prohibi-
tive, but the payback period is rela-
tively short. RPI estimates  that the
initial capital cost to install a com-
mercial-size plastics recycling facility
(capable of producing 20 million
pounds  per year) ranges from $2-5
million  and has a typical payback
period of one to three  years. The two
other separators estimate two-year
paybacks for capital costs.

American Council for an Energy-
Efficient Economy (ACEEE)

MBA Polymers
Dr. Mike Biddle

Argonne National Laboratory

Recovery Plastics International
Ronald  Kobler

EPA's Climate and Waste Program increases
awareness of  climate change and its link to
waste management in order to  (1) make green-
house gas emissions a factor in waste manage-
ment decisions and (2) employ waste manage-
ment as a mitigation action  for reducing green-
house gas emissions. For additional information
on EPA's Climate and Waste Program, see
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