• Gary Robinson

Synaptic Connections Newsletter 2019 Week#33

August 12, 2019 www.Synapticpackaging.com Image -Jellyfish

Week#33 of 2019

Hello, and I hope this note finds you well.  We are in a segment of our discussion where we are challenging everyone to ReThink Waste.  In the last few newsletters we outlined the drivers to make recycling economically sustainable.  In that discussion, we highlighted the challenges of contaminates, the need to design for recycling, and we explored some of the geo-political trade policies that are having an impact on the industry.  Last week, we explored emerging technologies that will help to generate a cleaner, higher-valued recycle stream.  Today, let's focus on the emerging technologies that might redefine what it means to recycle.

Traditional recycling is primarily built around mechanics - sort out like materials, eliminate as many contaminates as possible, wash it, grind it, then submit it back into the manufacturing process - typically, blended with virgin material.  Emerging technologies are taking a fresh look at how recycling is done and instead of focusing on mechanics, they are focusing on chemistry.  The simplified goal is to look at new ways to break-down the materials to their base molecular components in a gas, liquid, or solid state.  Then, use those base chemistries as building-blocks to make new products.

There are many new technologies being investigated, let's highlight a few with simplified descriptions:

  • Pyrolysis:  Using elevated heat, in the absence of oxygen (no flame), to generate carbon char (solid), liquid hydrocarbons, and syngas.

  • Chemical Recycling:  Using chemical catalysts under various controlled conditions to depolymerize the molecular chains of plastic into base chemistry components.

  • Anaerobic Digestion:  On the organic side of recycling we are seeing advances in anaerobic digestion to convert food waste into liquid and gas outputs.

  • Plasma Gassification:  Using extremely high heat to vaporize matter producing a syngas, and residual glassified pellets.  Plasma gasification is robust and not subject to process limitations from contaminates.  It is however, energy intensive.

At Synaptic Packaging we took a deep dive into Pyrolysis last year.  We see a lot of potential for this technology, however, our findings indicated that it is still subjective to GIGO = Garbage in, Garbage Out.  That is to say, that the technology still needs a clean processing stream and that contaminates on the in-feed, will lead to a lower quality chemistry in the output.  The sorting of those contaminates can be done on the front-end, or on the back-end as a liquid or gas.  Either way, the economic balance lies in the ability to extract contaminates.  To be fair, the process is more forgiving of contaminates than traditional recycling.  

We still remain bullish on this technology and expect continued growth, primarily with mono-stream producers, and hard to recycle materials.  For post-consumer recycling we are cautious as it adds an extra processing step into an already strained economic model.   In the presence of contaminates, it is better to classify it as down-cycling.  If applied in conjunction with a sophisticated sorting operation, then these technologies open new and broader markets for the sale of recycled liquid and gas hydrocarbons.

We hope you enjoyed this brief summary on emerging recycling technologies.  Have a great week, enjoy the news articles below, and as always.... we hope this prompts constructive discussion and innovative thoughts on how to advance Sustainability.  Have a great week!

Packaging Sustainability//

ReThink Waste//

Emerging Energy//

The purpose of this newsletter is to stimulate innovative thoughts and constructive dialogue through the lens of sustainability.  New subscribers can send an e-mail to the link below to sign-up. 

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