RES Polyflow enters agreement with BP

RES Polyflow, a Chagrin Falls, Ohio-based manufacturer of plastics-to-fuel energy recovery systems, has announced it has entered into an offtake agreement with BP, with U.S. headquarters in Denver, for the fuels produced by its first commercial production facility.

Located in Ashley, Indiana, the RES Polyflow plant is designed to convert 100,000 tons annually of plastic scrap and waste into 16 million gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel and naphtha blend stocks. The project is expected to begin processing in 2019. The facility also will produce commercial grade waxes for sale to the industrial wax market.

Under the terms of the agreement, BP will purchase all the diesel fuel and naphtha blend stocks produced by the RES Polyflow facility for distribution in the regional petroleum market.

“Agreements like this one highlight our commitment to helping drive the transition to a low-carbon future, which is embedded in the core of our business strategy,” says Carey Mendes, head of BP’s Chicago-based Global Oil Americas marketing and trading business.

“We provide communities with an alternative to traditional methods of plastic disposal that complement current recycling practices,” comments RES Polyflow CEO Jay Schabel.

Once online, the Ashley facility is expected to create a new market for the growing stream of complex plastic film, flexible packaging and other low-value, difficult-to-recycle plastic that often goes to landfills. The company says it plans additional facilities for surrounding Midwest states. The new locations will be anchored by the Indiana facility as the primary postprocessing site for the BP offtake agreement.

Unilever commits to PET recycling venture

Netherlands-based consumer products company Unilever has announced a partnership with Ioniqa Technologies and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) producer Indorama Ventures to pioneer a technology designed to convert PET scrap into virgin-grade material for use in food packaging.

Ioniqa indicates it has developed a technology designed to convert any PET scrap, including colored packaging, back into what it calls transparent virgin-grade material. “The technology has successfully passed its pilot stage and is now moving toward testing at an industrial scale,” the company states.

PET is widely used to produce plastic packaging, with Unilever estimating that worldwide about 20 percent of the material makes its way to recycling plants.

Netherlands-based Ioniqa’s new technology takes PET scrap and breaks it down to the base molecule level while separating color and contaminants, according to the three firms involved in the partnership. At Indorama’s facility, the molecules are converted back into PET that can be equal to virgin-grade quality, the firms indicate.

The companies say if the technology is proven successful at industrial scale, it will be possible in the future to convert all PET back into food-grade packaging. They refer to that scenario as a “fully circular solution [that] could lead to an industry transformation, since the new technology can be repeated indefinitely.”

In 2017, Unilever committed to having all of its plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

“We want all of our packaging to be fit for a world that is circular by design, stepping away from the take-make-dispose model that we currently live in,” Unilever Chief R&D Officer David Blanchard says. “This innovation is particularly exciting because it could unlock one of the major barriers today—making all forms of recycled PET suitable for food packaging.”

Aloke Lohia, group CEO of Thailand-based Indorama Ventures, says, “This partnership is fully aligned with our vision. We, therefore, look forward to working closely with Unilever and Ioniqa to leverage this state-of-the-art technology.”

China’s plastic scrap import permits continue to lag

Steve Wong, executive president of the China Scrap Plastic Association (CSPA), says an eighth list of 2018 import permits released by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE, formerly MEP) in mid-March continues to place the nation’s plastic scrap import levels far behind the volumes seen in prior years.

The mid-March permits had a combined import volume of 18,200 tons to be received by 14 plastic recycling facilities, which Wong calls “the largest in terms of quantity so far” in 2018. The 2018 year-to-date total of 44,760 tons for 43 recycling plants puts the nation on track for an “annualized total that can potentially be up to 215,000 tons, which would be a drastic shortfall of 7.1 million tons against the 2016 yearly imports of 7.3 million tons,” Wong says, referring to what would be a 97 percent volume reduction.

Wong, who also is chairman of Fukutomi Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, and a member of two Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) committees, adds that even the assumption of 215,000 tons imported in 2018 “could be too optimistic, as a policy to enforce reduction has been adopted.”

He also writes in his market report to CSPA members that the recycled pellet market “is hard hit recently by the latest round of enforcement.” The MEE’s “three-unification” effort is described by Wong as “an existing requirement introduced in 2014 on plastic raw material imports with required specification standards of unified color, unified size and shape and unified packing on the same shipment of plastic materials imported as production feedstock.”

He continues, “Reportedly triggered by smuggled imports of plastic [scrap] uncovered during various customs checks, China Customs has adopted new measures of enforcing 50 percent or more random checks on all recycled pellet imports recently” at several Chinese ports.

The inspections have “caused numerous issues,” Wong says, “as Customs is taking upwards of one month to complete these checks. Thus, thousands of containers are now stuck at these ports.”

He says CSPA is “working actively on this issue and has made suggestions to the players in the industry that, apart from complying with ‘three-unification’ requirements, [the] goods producer must submit a mechanical property test table” that meets standards set by China Customs.

Shippers in Southeast Asia are working to comply with the requirement by shipping pellets of unified color (either black or natural clear) to avoid problems, he adds.

The recycled pellets market overall has been affected by the slowdown in the trade cycle caused by the new inspection measures, leading to tight cash flows, Wong says.

The process “also impacts normal recycling operations, as recycled-content pellets with additives or compounding substances cannot pass customs checks,” he says.