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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Comparative Case Study: Plastic Film Recycling at Two Simon Malls

At the November 17 Annual Elemental Impact (Ei) Annual Partner Meeting, Tonya Randell with Moore Recycling Associates announced the Comparative Case Study: Plastic Film Recycling at Two Simon Malls release. Prepared by Ei on behalf of W.R.A.P. - Wrap Recycling Action Program, the case study chronicles the Charlotte plastic film recycling programs pioneered within the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) - Shopping Mall Pilot

Initiated by members of the American Chemistry Council's Flexible Film Recycling Group in partnership with GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition and The Association of Plastic Recyclers, W.R.A.P.'s purpose is to reinvigorate plastic film recycling. The goal is to double recycling to 2 billion tons by 2020.

In 2011 Ei Industry Experts & Pioneers embarked on a commercial plastic film recycling journey targeted at moderate generators where standard-sized bale assembly was not practical. Development of a city-wide plastic film recycling template was the intended destination. 

In the 2010 | 2011 time frame, plastic film generated at shopping malls skyrocketed due to shifts in garment packaging. Previously, garments were bulk packaged for retail sales. With significant increases in internet sales, manufacturers shifted to individual, clear plastic film garment packaging for shipping.

Doug Stoner, Louis & Matt at
first plastic film recycling meeting
With the introduction of commercial single-stream recycling - paper fibers, metals and other recyclable materials mixed together for the collection vehicle - the higher plastic film volume increased a mall's waste hauling expenses. Single-stream recycling is delivered to a MRF (materials recovery facility) where the material is separated via an integrated system of conveyor belts, optical sorting, blowers, and hand separation. Since it wraps around the sorting equipment, plastic film is considered a contaminant in single-stream recycling.

Yet plastic film is a valuable commodity when collected separately and baled for sale. Historically, plastic film rebates exceed OCC (old corrugated cardboard) by three to five times on a per pound basis. Thus, there is a strong business case for separated plastic film recycling at malls: film rebates and reduced landfill hauling | tipping charges more than offset program costs.

A strong Ei Team came together to create a shopping mall plastic film recycling program template. Ei Partner Louis Herrera of Novolex (then Hilex Poly) was the visionary who devised the overall plan. As a major plastic bag manufacturer, Novolex was eager to purchase the film as post-consumer recycled content for their bag production.

Ray is all smiles with his
Orwak baler
The mall plastic film recycling model centered around on-site baling. Ei Partner Mark Lanning of Orwak shared his expertise on setting up on-site baling systems. A baler manufacturer, Orwak offers a mini baler perfect for a small recycling center located in a mall's back-of-the-house.

Ei Industry Pioneer Simon Malls was eager to recycle the abundant film generated by their tenants. In addition to cost-savings incentives, major national tenants were pressuring Simon to recycle their plastic film. Then Simon Director of Waste & Recycling Matt Hupp worked closely with the Ei Team on program development.

A Charlotte Simon Mall, Concord Mills (CM) - the SFCI Shopping Center Pilot - was selected as the first mall plastic film recycling pilot. In addition to excellent mall logistics, CM General Manager Ray Soporowski was an industry veteran committed to sustainability and "doing the right thing." The stage was set!

First on the agenda was a visit to Simon's hometown Indianapolis for a tour | education of a typical Simon Mall. The following day Hilex Poly (now Novolex) hosted a tour of their plastic film recycling plant a couple hours south in North Vernon, IN.

The Ei Team @ Concord Mills
On the second tour, Matt, Louis and Ei Founder Holly Elmore traveled to Charlotte. The trio met with CM & SouthPark Mall management to assess the current plastic film status. SouthPark is a sister Simon Mall located within Mecklenburg County. During the second tour, Mecklenburg County Government joined forces with the Ei Team and provided a local support network.

In August 2012 the CM plastic film recycling pilot launched with ease, grace & celebration. The following month SouthPark launched their plastic film recycling program.

For the case study ROI (return on investment) analysis, CM and SouthPark 2015 calendar year program stats were used. At the Annual Ei Partner Meeting, Tonya brought several hard copies of the case study published three days earlier.

Ei's pioneering role in commercial plastic film recycling is documented on the Plastic Film Recycling website page. The Ei FB album, Source-Separated Materials Recycling: building a city-wide network, is a pictorial recap of the work-in-progress. Note the Plastic Film Recycling Template expanded to the Source-Separated Material Recycling Template.

Plastic film ready for the baler
The IMPACT Blog article, Ei 2016: Year of Recognition, chronicles the powerful 2016 Annual Ei Meeting and features Tonya's presentation on the case study and beyond.

With the Comparative Case Study: Plastic Film Recycling at Two Simon Malls release, the Ei Team is ready to reconvene with W.R.A.P. and continue the profound work started with Simon Malls. The platform is built, the stage is set, and Ei is anxious to continue pioneering commercial plastic film recycling programs.

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