In a first of its kind event, ISRI and SWANA partnered to put on the First Annual MRF Summit as part of SWANA’s Wastecon Expo. The Summit was held on August 22 and 23 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort located in Nashville.
The purpose of the Summit was to bring together recyclers, municipalities and brand owners to talk about common issues and provide solutions to issues of “contamination” and “quality” that relate to specification materials being manufactured by the nation’s Material Recycling Facilities. The Summit was developed as a response to the shifting markets the industry has recently experienced. This shifting landscape is a result of a number of factors – including several Southeast Asian countries (such as China, Vietnam and Thailand closing or severely restricting imports allowed in their country), an increased level of “wishcycling” (materials that should not be put in the bin but are by a well-meaning public), and a resulting decrease in the quality of specification grade material being produced. The MRF Summit gave all members of the industry the opportunity to discuss and identify solutions for this situation and how to turn those solutions into tools to help alleviate the situation.
The main attraction for the MRF Summit was the Breakout Session, “Facing the Music: Are We Listening to Different Tunes?” in which attendees split into small groups and were tasked to discuss and develop solutions to problems related to packaging design, policy or operational challenges.
While there were a number of important takeaways from the conference, as it relates to plastics, two items stood out:
- The FTC definition of recycling is insufficient to meet public expectations. The public expects recycled materials to be returned to beneficial use, but according to the Federal Trade Commission’s definition, for an item to be “recyclable,” 60 percent of the country must have access to a program that collects it. Many containers and materials meet that definition but do not have viable end markets.
- Language is important. It is important to use the correct terminology. Scrap is not waste, it’s a commodity used in manufacturing. Further, “contamination” isn’t an accurate description of items that don’t belong in a bale – aluminum cans are recyclable, they just don’t belong in a paper bale. We should look at reframing the debate by using “outthrow” as a description of items that don’t belong in a bale.
ISRI’s MRF Council will take the lead in analyzing the options and ideas which were laid out at the meeting and will spend the remainder of the year turning those ideas and concepts into deliverable tools that can be shared by the industry.