Republic Services moves to vertical integration in plastics

On the Olefins Processing Line, after the initial coarse crushing, a set of optical sorters will sort the material into 10 different bunkers. Republic’s goal is to create balls that are extremely clean and specific to each product. The company plans to sort olefins by color and will use mid-infrared optical equipment to aggregate black plastics by resin type.

The line could sort even deeper at some point in the future, with Keller noting that he could imagine a buyer wanting loads of all-food-grade plastic to use in new food-grade packaging.

“Right now, no one is producing a bale of reclaimed food-grade PP, for example,” Keller said. “That kind of capability could be built into the system. This is something we will explore once we are up and running.

On both lines, the company will use 19 optical sorters.

Municipal implications

With a downstream facility dedicated to plastics, Republic will have the ability to somewhat shift its strategy on sorting plastics in MRFs.

Currently, the company has to meet certain bullet specifications for downstream buyers, but as much of this material will begin to flow to the Polymer Center, the purity of the plastic won’t be so critical in the bullets leaving the MRFs of the Republic.

“We are focused on recovering more resin locally – we will focus less on quality and more on quantity.” Keller said. “It can mean an increase in catch rates in our municipalities.”

This could mean accepting more types of plastics in local programs as well as more recycling opportunities in multi-family and out-of-home environments.

“We still have to create something that the market will accept,” Keller said. “We’re not saying it’s going away, but the importance of [bale quality] locally decreases because we can apply more sorting at the Polymer Center.

“At the center of our thesis, post-consumer will trade at a higher price than first.”
–Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services

He noted that a typical PET bale exiting an MRF has a yield of around 60%, with contaminants, cap and label substrate, and more accounting for the remaining 40%. With the growing need for reclaimed plastic on the market, Republic saw an opportunity.

“When we talk about PET, we’re confident the releases will want to find their way back to bottle markets on the West Coast,” Keller said. “When they leave our facilities, it will be 99% PET, up from 60%. We will market what our customers want to buy. »

Keller said the company began exploring the notion of vertical integration in plastics as China The national sword policy took hold in 2018. This import restriction has started to drastically reduce the amount of recovered plastic that can be sold in China, but it has also had wider repercussions on the recycling market this increased the role that plastics played in Republic’s recycling division.

“When the paperboard and mixed papers markets crashed, all of a sudden plastics accounted for 45% of our raw materials revenue,” Keller explained. “I told the organization that we need to become more intentional with what we do with plastics.”

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