ISRI Convention: New Plastic Pathways

Plastics from the C&D stream are finding many domestic end markets.

April 25, 2013

Recyclers of mixed C&D materials may focus on wood, aggregates, metals and other common building materials, but most also find they end up accepting a wide variety and considerable amounts of plastic.

A session held at the 2013 Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) Convention & Exposition, held April 9-13 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., looked at the potential growth of this sector. In a session titled “Plastic from Construction and Demolition Debris,” two C&D recyclers provided presentations on how their respective companies handle inbound plastic materials.

Paul Degnan of E.L. Harvey & Sons, Westborough, Mass., and Todd Byrum of Butler Paper Recycling, Suffolk, Va., each provided attendees with knowledge gained from their experience of seeking end markets for plastics generated at C&D job sites.

Session moderator Brian Taylor of the Recycling Today Media Group provided a partial list of plastic items commonly found in the C&D stream, including:

  • Carpet and padding;
  • plastic films;
  • tarps and sheets;
  • PVC pipe;
  • PVC siding;
  • drywall and paint pails;
  • corrugated tubing (irrigation, drainage);
  • plastic and composite fencing and decking; and
  • PET water and soda bottles

“We see a lot of pails and old buckets,” said Degnan regarding one of form of plastic entering E.L. Harvey’s mixed C&D facility.

Such materials increasingly have a domestic home rather than having to be exported, said Degnan. “There is a significant transformation right now—there are more opportunities for re-grinders here, and domestic markets have definitely developed,” he commented

“There have been significant investments” made in plastic scrap grinding, re-processing and consumption in the United States, Degnan added. “The demand for post-consumer resins is really driving this; there has been a big push.”

Degnan said just 33 percent of rigid plastic scrap was being recycled when E.L. Harvey opened its mixed C&D facility in2007, but by 2010 that recycling rate had grown to 61 percent.

One of Byrum’s challenges, he said, is regional. “Virginia is a trash state,” he stated, noting that the state is a net importer of solid waste and that its tipping fees can be as low as $23 per ton.

Despite the low cost of landfilling, there is a global demand for plastic scrap that has created export markets, as well as a desire by U.S. manufacturers to use recycled content in their products, said Byrum. He added that there are “a lot of consumers of plastic scrap” in the U.S. Southeast in particular

Among the materials Byrum and Butler Paper have worked with are plastic films, vinyl siding and fencing, drums and barrels, carpet and padding and a collection of pails, trash cans, bins and containers often placed together in a category called mixed rigid plastics.

The mixed rigid material has become more marketable in the past few years, said Byrum, who also noted that some 465,000 tons of this material was recovered for recycling in 2011.

The 2014 ISRI Convention & Exposition will be April 6-10 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.