Plastics Get Their Own Version of Renewable Energy Certificates

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It has been years since the development of the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC), a digital commodity meant to stimulate development and adoption of renewable energy sources. The REC program has enjoyed moderate success since its inception. Now, the plastics industry wants in. A Virginia-based organization known as GreenBlue aims to do just that with the introduction of their Attributes of Recycled Content (ARC) certificates.

Only a single ARC transaction had taken place at the time this post was produced. GreenBlue anticipates their ARC program will eventually take off. If it does, companies looking to support the development of the recycled plastics market can contribute, even if they have little control over their own plastic consumption, by buying ARCs. Meanwhile, the companies selling recycled plastic materials can fund further innovation by selling their certificates.

A Market Needing a Shot in the Arm

The ARC program seems like a good idea as long as buyers and sellers can participate voluntarily. Anything that helps innovators produce more recycled plastic materials is a good thing. Better yet, producing them in a voluntary, private-sector way sure beats the government mandate alternative.

Recycled plastic materials represent a market that needs a shot in the arm. As things currently stand, the demand for recycled plastics is commensurate with virgin plastic prices. As the cost for virgin plastic goes down, so does the demand for recycled materials.

Another challenge in plastic recycling is a manufacturer’s ability to control the materials it uses to make its products. There are companies that would like to use more recycled materials but are unable to do so for whatever reason. The ARC program helps on both ends by balancing out the market through the use of credits.

Credits for Recyclers

It is not clear whether ARC credits will be available to recyclers like Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics. Active in seven states, including Michigan and Ohio, Seraphim Plastics purchases tons of industrial plastic waste and transforms it into regrind. Manufacturers purchase regrind and mix it with virgin plastic.

Seraphim Plastics purchases plastic purge and cutoffs from injection mold manufacturers. They buy plastic pallets for logistics providers. They buy plastic totes, dunnage trays, buckets, and even baled PET bottles. It would be fantastic if the material they sell was eligible for ARCs.

Developing New Recycling Methods

Seraphim Plastics’ mechanical recycling process is pretty simple. They run plastic loads through a series of grinders to reduce its size. What comes out the other end is ready for sale. It is not complicated at all. However, shredding and grinding isn’t appropriate for every kind of plastic. Therefore, we need new and better methods for recycling things like foam and plastic film.

Perhaps the ARC system will help seed research and development to that end. Renewable energy credits have had some impact on R&D in their given sector. It would be nice to see the same sort of thing in plastics recycling. Time will tell just how much impact the ARC program has on the development of new methods and processes.

Recycle What They Can

In the meantime, it is important that both consumers and industry recycle what they can. Most types of industrial plastics can be mechanically recycled by grinding and shredding it into small pieces that can be melted down and used for new manufacturing. As for post-consumer plastics, recycling efforts are a bit more limited.

The new ARC program is a step in the right direction in the drive to recycle more plastic so that less goes to landfills and incinerators. Here’s hoping the program accomplishes all its goals – and then some.