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FPI MythBusters Part 1: Barriers Beware!

"Don't try this at home-we are what you'd call 'experts'."  When you hear these words, you know it's MythBusters time.  Well, unlike the popular television show MythBusters, I encourage you to "try this at home!"  Today is the start of my own series of FPI MythBusters, where I will debunk the most common myths surrounding FSP recovery.  In my last post, I listed four of the most common myths heard, and now I want to take the time to tell the "truths" to these myths.

The first myth in my series involves having too many barriers surrounding foodservice packaging to ever have successful recovery. FSP materials have long been considered difficult to recover because of these perceived barriers, but through the work of Paper Recovery Alliance (PRA) and Plastics Recovery Group (PRG), we're continually focusing on getting those containers, cups and bags, and boxes moved into the "commonly recovered" category.  Throughout these projects, we have had conversations with cities and organizations on the following perceived barriers:


·        Contamination: Food residue always seems to be a popular concern for municipal recycling coordinators and material recovery facilities but we have found that in cities with successful programs such as Boston, contamination of foodservice packaging is not a concern at all. In fact, Boston treats FSP like any other recyclable. With a small portion of recyclables coming from FSP, even tricky items such as pizza boxes have not stumped these cities’ programs.

·        Cost: The subject of increased cost for adding FSP to city programs or for equipment needs will always be a concern for city programs and facility operators. Similarly to other perceived barriers, the costs of adding FSP to a program seem to not be noticeable. The City of Boise has successfully been accepting FSP in their recycling and has seen no discernible increase in costs from the start of the program.

·        Processing: With many of the successful programs around the country accepting FSP at the curbside, another concern occurs surrounding where the FSP is processed. Whether it is a recycling or composting program, many items continue to be effectively sorted and marketed through facilities. FSP makes up a relatively small portion of the material stream, so for instance in the case of the local material recovery facility (MRF) in Seattle, FSP is included with existing material bales such as a mixed paper or mixed plastics #3-#7 bale.  In addition to their recycling program, the city has been collecting and processing a wide variety FSP in their composting program. To help us learn more the fate and behavior of FSP and identify any additional items such as sorting equipment needs, we are currently undergoing a study with selected MRFs across the U.S.

·        Lack of End Markets: Perceived issues around available end markets is a barrier for most, which is a valid concern because without end markets, no material can be successfully recovered.  As I mentioned above, pizza boxes have always been a tricky item but in many of the successful programs we have encountered, pizza boxes are being accepted in old corrugated cardboard (OCC) end markets. Some materials continue to have more limited end markets but there solutions being found as new end markets emerge.  A great example of this comes from the Natural Environmental Protection Company (NEPCO) who has been making picture frames from polystyrene for years! An EPS manufacturer connected the company with a post-consumer EPS foam source, and now NEPCO collects FSP from a variety of sources to make their products.

Now, I am not writing here to say that there are absolutely no issues with FSP recovery.  There are challenges but most of the problems we hear about tend to be misconceptions and misunderstandings about these materials and the system in which they are recovered.  In the coming month you'll see us roll out our new online FSP recovery toolkit citing example after example of how those barriers to recovery are breaking down.  Over the last few years, we have been investigating successful FSP recovery programs across the nation and will be sharing our findings, lessons learned and case studies in this toolkit.  Cities across the US and Canada, including Austin, Boston, Boise, Philadelphia, Seattle and Toronto have all continued to have success with FSP recovery in their programs, and we hope that recovery will continue to increase with these shared experiences.

Posted By Natha Dempsey (Vice President) | 2/18/2014 5:55:22 PM