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Grocery store pilot taps new sources of recyclable plastic materials

Grocery store pilot taps new sources of recyclable plastic materials
A first of its kind pilot project focused on recovering grocery store plastic packaging has identified more than 350 million pounds of plastic material that can be easily separated and used as feed stock by plastic recycling facilities across the country.

Conducted by the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR ), North America’s largest alliance of plastic recyclers, the effort targeted the recovery of grocery store based high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) trays, pails, and covers, as well as stock-quantity size prescription medicine bottles.

In announcing the results, APR Rigid Plastic Recycling Director Liz Bedard stated “This project had a clear focus. First, develop a strong operational model for recovery of plastic containers,” “And second, turn those findings into tools and resources for easy adoption by other grocery store chains.”

Bedard added, “The project was designed to flush out and quickly address possible barriers to recovery of plastic material. The pilot partners were pleased and surprised to not only with the ease of implementation, but also with the revenue received for the recovered plastic material.”

Bedard pointed out that odor ranked near the top of the list of early concerns for pilot participants. “That issue was solved by simply rinsing containers.”

"Staffing was another concern," said Bedard. “However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the pilot participants were able to generate and separate material for purchase by recyclers with no added manpower. This is a key finding, in that grocery stores now have the ability to turn what had been a cost center-paying for trash removal, into a profit center-with recyclers paying them for the material with no added staff costs incurred. That was a huge find."

APR Rigid Plastic Recycling Committee Chair Laura Keck expands on that idea, “Not only did we accomplish that goal, but we also validated the available types and quantities of plastic packaging available in the marketplace.” Since the 2010 APR Assessment of Grocery Store Rigid Plastics there has been a noticeable increase in the percentage of available PP, particularly in the form of plastic corrugated boxes used by produce departments.

Keck continues, “Once we determined what type of material came into the back end of the grocery store, and how much, we could then focus on how to separate the material for purposes of making it available for recycling. To our surprise, stores already assign workers to separate the material, so they can now turn what had been trash into a profit center and sell that material with no additional costs incurred.”