Investment Opportunities in Film Plastic Recycling

Closed Loop Foundation partnered with RSE on a national study to understand bottlenecks holding back recycling of post consumer LDPE film and multi-laminate film packaging recycling and where investment is needed.

Bags and wraps are frequently made of a single plastic type. Alternatively, flexible packaging is commonly made from several layers of different types of plastics bonded together, with each layer serving a function to protect and keep the contents fresh, which most often is food. Because different types of plastics are not compatible with each other when melted down together, this presents recycling challenges for flexible packaging because it is not currently technically possible or feasible to separate the materials in the different bonded layers.

The good news is that more than half of film is polyethylene film, which is recyclable today. Furthermore, the ability to recycle multilayer films that are primarily made from polypropylene with polyethylene layers is promising. For the other film types, changes in package design and continued research into new recycling technologies can minimize the quantity of films that are not yet able to be recycled.

  • There are a number of areas where the investment community can help to improve film recycling in the U.S. These areas include expanding reclamation capacity and growing recycled content product manufacturing.
  • A number of organizations have initiatives underway to improve film recycling, in some cases duplicating each other’s efforts, whereas in other cases no one is addressing other obstacles. Coordinating efforts among stakeholders will help to advance film recycling.
  • Film recycling loans, grants, and venture capital investments are all needed to overcome film recycling obstacles.
  • More than half of polyethylene film collected in the U.S. for recycling is exported, although demand from export markets has begun to decline and this is expected to be a long-term trend. Thus it is essential that the U.S. expand its infrastructure to sort, reclaim, and manufacturing products using recycled plastic PE film.
  • Reclaimers and markets for non-polyethylene film are virtually non-existent. There is a need to develop a recycling infrastructure and recycling markets for the polypropylene-based film portion at a minimum, in order for comprehensive film recycling to occur.
  • It is important for film manufacturers to design film products and packages for recycling so that the economics of comprehensive film collection and recycling programs can improve. This includes designing products that are compatible with the polyethylene recycling stream.

 

Closed Loop Foundation