Foodservice Packaging Recovery Case Study
QRS Recycling (St. Louis, Missouri)
QRS Recycling was founded in 1974 and has been finding unique solutions for challenges in recycling in the industry for nearly five decades. Headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, QRS now serves all markets east of the Rocky Mountains.
QRS currently has plastic recovery facilities (PRFs) in the Midwest and Northeast, offering material recovery facilities (MRFs) and reclaimers with a solution for mixed post-consumer plastic that focuses on providing movement and pricing options for all market conditions. In addition, their Louisville facility offers not only single stream and mixed waste processing, but metal and organics recovery and sorting for commercial businesses, institutions and waste haulers. In 2014, QRS opened one of the nation’s first mixed post-consumer plastic reclaimers called Re-Poly, in St. Louis, Missouri. Most recently, in 2015, QRS opened one of the largest plastic recovery facilities in Baltimore, Maryland. Both facilities use advanced reprocessing solutions for mixed post-consumer plastics, providing a large volume of high quality flake and bales to be re-introduced into the supply chain.
Facility's bagging station on the flake line
Mixed plastics infeed material
Foodservice Packaging Materials Processed
Every month, QRS PRFs take thousands of tons of mixed post-consumer plastic from suppliers such as other MRFs and reclaimers. Their PRF accepts post-consumer plastics in the following bale grades; #1-7s (with bulky rigids), #3-7s (with bulky rigids), and bulky rigids. Included in the commodities listed above are comprised of foodservice packaging materials such as PS and PP thermoform food containers. PET examples include food and produce containers, and plastics #3-7 examples include thermoform packaging, cups, trays, clamshells, and food tubs.
Challenges and Solutions
From QRS’s point of view, there is no practical difference between foodservice packaging and other plastic packaging. There has not been an issue with food residue, and the flotation and optical sorting can handle shapes like trays and thermoforms without a problem. However, QRS does experience challenges that relate to plastics recycling broadly.
Demand for Material: Currently, QRS feels supply and demand are unbalanced. While some resins such as PP, PE, and clear PET are easily marketed, end markets must be developed for materials that do not have strong end markets. By purchasing a recovered material that currently does not have an end use, a retailer or brand can help build those needed end markets. This demand creates opportunities for for reclaimers to find a solution.
Packaging Design: Choices such as a resin switch or a pigment use can have a noticeable impact in this industry and on whether the package can be recovered. QRS encourages brands to consider the processing capabilities and further, the end market demand, before designing or redesigning a package. Overall, items like black plastic trays and salad bowls, regardless of resin type, are more challenging to recover, as black pigments are not “read” correctly by optical sorters. However, black plastic trays and salad bowls that do make it into a mixed plastics bale coming from a MRF have a strong chance of being recovered if made from PE or PP, as they will be separated by flotation at the PRF.
PET thermoform bales
QRS offers post-consumer single polymer bales of PET as well as washed flake of PP and HDPE. QRS will soon offer PS in baled form.
Key Findings and Recommendations
“A consistent challenge for QRS is the composition of bales, and the changing composition of bales ultimately comes from what products are sitting on shelves,” said QRS CEO Greg Janson. Although market demand for certain baled and flake material is low, it could all change with demand from brands. “If brands were to say ‘we need 5-10 percent post-consumer material in our product’ the demand for these materials in the end market would soar.” Janson also sees a great need for communication and education about materials and processing.
- January 2017
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