Research and analysis

Building Circular Supply Chains for Polypropylene in North America

The dynamics of the municipal recycling system in the United States have changed dramatically in recent years, and actors across the value chain are actively seeking opportunities for improvement across the system.

In many cases, municipalities are considering removing (or have already removed) certain recyclables from acceptance in curbside programs, most notably mixed plastics, but this action runs counter to tremendous demand for these materials by plastics reprocessors.

In view of the disconnect between market demand and actions being taken by collection programs and materials recovery facilities (MRFs), we conducted research to identify MRF interventions to enhance the recovery of polypropylene (PP or plastic #5), commonly used in to-go containers.

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Key takeaways from our research:

Incorporating computer vision equipped robotics to pick polypropylene can enable attractive payback periods, even at small (15,000 TPY) MRFs.

Brand-led PCR commitments coupled with North American capacity to purchase bales and PP’s versatility suggest strong market pull for more PP in the coming years.

Investment in infrastructure at the MRF, along with consistent and clear communication to residents, is immediately needed to meet the growing demand for recycled PP.

Technological upgrades at the MRF – namely optical sorters, robotics, or both – are needed to consistently meet quality demands for PP bales.