To PCR or to PIR? That is the question...
To Post consumer or To Post Industrial? That is the question….
In the plastics industry, there is a lot of talk about post-consumer and post-industrial recycling. How do you know which one is more important? And why?
Unfortunately we can not actually give you an answer to that question for what works for you or your company. What we can do, is tell you a little about what WE do, and the reasons we chose the path we did in recycling.
First, is to understand the difference between post consumer and post industrial. There really is not formal consensus on this matter, so we can only tell you what we believe the difference is.
Post consumer- After a consumer has used a product and it was collected by a municipality to go to recycling.
Post industrial- Everything else for recycling. In particular when recycling material comes from a manufacture.
There is also post-commercial and a few other types of recycling, but post consumer and post industrial are the most talked about so we will keep the conversation simple.
We at SSD Designs do an educational program with 2nd through 5th graders where for about 30 minutes we get to talk and show our youth about recycling and plastics specifically. It is the coolest experience!
It may shock you to know that we have yet to experience a single person outside of the plastics industry who even knows the difference between post-consumer and post-industrial. It may also surprise you how little they know as 2nd graders about how much is made from plastics too.
By the time we are done with our first session we have helped 200-300 kids understand some basic recycling ideas like- contamination, compounding, post-consumer and post-industrial. Most importantly, we get to teach these children that there is a lot of challenges with any resource we use a lot, and plastics are not alone in that challenge. It is so much bigger than one type of commodity, it is a lifestyle problem.
We explain that recycling that needs to be done now is a tragedy. It means we used more than we needed, or we didn’t plan well on how something was going to be used later, or maybe we solved one problem but haven’t found a solution to the problem that was created from the problem we solved. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction- Newtons third law.
So how do you know where to focus the use of recycled materials? Well you start- by trying to stop making product to recycle at all. That is the beginning of it all. So how in the world does anyone do that?
We took a good hard look at ourselves and said, how can we make an impact and how can we help make less waste? We knew from our own experience that conversations and collaboration around problems helped to create solutions. Our education program taught us that there was a lot of information that was not getting into the right places where change was even possible. That is when it dawned on us, the answer was in front of us all along… we could make a difference by helping high risk and mass production manufacturers. We had already created a way for us to communicate internally better with our reporting and photography evidence system. I guess having some people with a forensics background made detail orientated information a necessity (even if it drove everyone crazy for a while)!
We could use this information we were already doing internally and share everything we learned about material going to recycling or diverted from landfill to us to help manufacturers improve THEIR internal engagement and maybe, just maybe, by them understanding their waste products better, they could help do something about making less of it.
Many of the companies we targeted were at high risk for landfill due to poorly understood materials being used to make their technology. Just because something has a recycling code on it, does not mean that it is all made the same way. That is like saying all people with the last name Smith are all related. Maybe they are but so many of them are so far removed from each other it would be super hard to trace back the relationship.
These products were not at high risk for landfill because there was yogurt in a cup- and they were physically dirty!
Oh no- it was because their amazing innovation was hard for the recycling community to understand.
Like so many things in life, if it is not understood, it is often ignored, ostracized or disposed of. In the case of plastics, it just goes to landfill or exported and then it’s anyone’s guess what happens after you lose the chain of custody.
So…. Hundreds of millions of pounds per year in the USA, are being sent to landfill by companies because they make a great product that we all need and use but recyclers don’t understand it.
Its not the recyclers fault, very few recyclers have a chemistry or engineering degree so trying to reverse engineer a material that they had no information on is near to impossible without tools, or at least clues as to how it was made.
We decided, THIS is where we can make a difference.
It may be hard for SSD to educate all the consumers out there, but we have made a start with our cool school program and in the meantime, we will continue to focus on helping manufacturers do better where they can to understand what they are recycling and hopefully with our reporting they can take steps to improve it.
With the raw materials we collected from recycling with these manufactures we made a green engineered product, that focused on the use of recycled plastics. We knew that because we were dealing with materials that were complicated and difficult to recycle, they would not be able to sell well alone, so we compounded other materials with them and yes, that includes the use of even virgin materials. We are committed to using the most amount of recycled material possible to make the same results that a fully virgin product would achieve mechanically. In the end, the goal is to not make waste and use what we can first without using more than we needed to.
One of our major objectives to be as carbon neutral (or positive) as possible when making these new green engineered products. Simple things can make a difference, like we try and avoid using color concentrate whenever and wherever possible. So many beautiful colors are already made that go to recycling, or are destined for landfill- We think that if we color separate out products then we can make new colored material without having to make a color concentrate to do that. It has taken a bit more work on our teams’ part to color separate, but we all feel really good about being able to use what already exists.
Going to a carbon neutral or positive impact isn’t super hard, in fact some changes are easier than you think to help make a difference in your personal life or professional life. One quick example, our plant had a little experiment in 2019. We thought, how can we make less waste? Better yet, how can we make no waste? Is it even possible? We were not talking about recycling everything or sending it to waste to energy, we are talking about not making it at all. Tall order for a manufacturing company, right? Well, we started by removing the ease of using a trashcan. Yup- no more trashcans or compactors in our plant. GONE! Camping every day. Wouldn’t you know, it worked! Everything had a place, and everything had a purpose. Recycling was even minimized to a crawl pace.
We did not make “no waste” at all, but out of millions of pounds recycled, we only landfilled 1019lbs. Pretty good, we thought. But we can do better. In 2020 we took away our vending machines and started a garden sharing program so we wouldn’t have waste from the wrappers or cans or bottles. Then we decided that it was time to start growing our own plants and helping them be fed the way nature does and we converted our break room into a aquaponics room so we would have fresh fruits and veggies all year long.
Was it hard? Not really. Yes, it was an adjustment to the way life has been and how easy and convenient it is to throw things away, but when it was all said and done we can feel really proud that we are creating a carbon neutral impact or maybe even a positive one. So, we will keep at it and hope that our efforts can show that any company can be less wasteful if they create a positive company culture that focuses on that goal.
So that’s it- we are currently using post-industrial. As you can see, we use post industrial because it is where we feel we can really make a difference.
We know we are helping manufactures reduce the amount of waste they produce by sharing everything we learn, on every product we recycle with them-so they can talk about it internally and then the information can go to people who can make changes.
In tandem with that reduction effort, we add value to the undesirable products we have collected by make a green engineered product that other manufactures want to use. Not because they have to, but because it was customized and designed specific for them and their needs.
The fact that we have targeted materials that are at high risk for landfill just takes the cake for our purpose and motivates us even more to be creative and find solutions!
Would we use post-consumer? Absolutely. Yes. Without a doubt.
For now, we feel our impact to the industrial market is making a difference- and that is what matters, not the label we used to make the product.
We hope that the next time someone asks you, "Is it post-consumer or post-industrial?" You say, “Does it make a difference?” because that’s the only real question you have to answer.