BRUSSELS, Oct 1, 2014 (PPI Magazine) - In China more than 3.2 billion more beverage cartons were recycled in 2013 than a year earlier. Starting at zero in 2005, the market leader Tetra Pak has now achieved a 25% recovery rate, targeting the ambitious goal of 40% by 2020.
This level of achievement can only happen when the cooperation between beverage and dairy companies, public authorities, NGOs, industry groups and community associations work diligently to ensure that beverage cartons recovery becomes systematic. However, the biggest driver for more rapid gains comes from entrepreneurs who are motivated to develop practical and high-tech solutions, capable of scaling up to large volumes.
Responding to this need as a market opportunity, several Chinese entrepreneurs have devised ways to recycle nearly 100% of used beverage cartons (UBC) with entirely different strategies. They are also focused on improved collection and sorting of UBC and other low value waste materials, so that more domestic beverage cartons are available to fuel their own growth.
Multiple value streams
Hangzhou Fulun Ecology Technology (Fulun) has developed processes to separate fiber, polyethylene and aluminum, recovering almost 100% of all three raw materials. Beverage carton fiber is of high value to make book, writing paper, and specialty grades. Aluminum pellets replace virgin aluminum for fireworks and novelty products, while polymer pellets are recycled as raw materials for industrial products.
What sets its system apart from others in China is what happens after a traditional stock preparation system, based on a continuous drum pulper, followed by pressure screens and centrifugal cleaners. Rejects from the pulper go through a delamination process, employing both mechanical action and chemical agents. The drum pulper recovers the fibers, which are of high freeness. They contain comparably lower levels of clay and ink than other printed high-quality papers.
Fulun, which began in 1994, started with Yang Jun's idea to improve the Fuchun River, and the quality of life in local community of Fuyang, where he grew up. "If our children could swim in a clean river, walk along roadsides without debris, and have the satisfaction of participating in recycling, I was ready to start something to make this happen."
Yang Jun was well aware that China has already become very good at modern papermaking with recovered fiber from other places in the world. Close to where he lives, masses of waste paper arrive from every continent.
Adds Yang Jun, "As I looked at all of this foreign recovered OCC and OMG, I envisioned a way to create a business from re-using our own local waste. For close to 2,000 years our region has been known for papermaking from local bamboo fiber, so why not build upon Chinese wastepaper, especially UBC?"
In fact, over the past several years, Fulun has been building up collection channels in most of China's provinces. It is also gathering low value waste materials from the Beijing West Train Station and intends to do the same at other public transportation hubs.
Adds Yang Jun, "We are ramping up recovery of a valuable resource, but also uplifting many people of very humble means. We will continue to find new and creative ways to meet our growing need for raw materials, so other ideas are in the works, too. This includes encouraging a higher price for UBC, so that the motivation for collection is greater at the gathering and sorting stage."
Fulun has plans in place to reach 100,000 tonnes/yr of paper, 30,000 tonnes of polymer pellets and 7,800 tonnes of aluminum pellets by 2020. Its expansion to meet this level began in July.
According to Zha Haibin, general manager at Fulun, "Waste beverage cartons contain high-quality long fiber, which any papermaker would like for a wide range of premium grades. UBC also provides us with two other profit steams, because we can earn extra money by selling polymer pellets and aluminum flakes to a range of industries."
Yang Jun credits Tetra Pak for its commitment to recycling, and supporting his efforts to grow his business. "They have helped me see the big picture. They are a knowledgeable and influential partner to inform government, society and even our customers about the importance of increasing China's rate of recycling of UBC.
"Before I only thought about how to build our mill, and making money out of it. Now I think about improving the entire supply chain, and being in the business of waste collection. Smarter practices at the mill come from seeing the bigger picture. This means I can reach my goals for our community sooner."
100% reuse with a different criterion
Shanghai Linpai Environmental Technology Company (Linpai) processes entire UBC into new products, such as durable waste bins, park benches, fencing, and more recently, bedroom furniture. Its material rivals wood, metal and plastic, having excellent functional performance and a marketable environmental edge.
"Our trash bins and benches, made from UBC have gained recognition from public officials and citizens at the Beijing Olympic Park, Shanghai World Expo, Tiananmen Square and the Beijing Capital airport," says Tian Jian Wei, founder of Linpai.
"We have pioneered new uses for UBC, beginning with our HB Chip-tec board in 1998, and then the next generation of PCC extrusion in 2003. Our latest development is to make furniture with our extruded products for substrate and veneers. Diversified shapes aim to replace wood, metal and plastics."
During the conversion of UCB into finished products, only small amount of lubricant and pigment are added, and there is no waste discharge at all.
Adds Tian Jian Wei, "Originally, a compelling factor for UBC was extremely low cost. Now, it's 1,000 RMB per ton. That's why my son, Tian Guan Xiong, has set up a collection system, which includes households. Government wants to reduce waste, separating for recycling. We aim to be part of this transition."
In fact, Tian Guang Xiong began to take over sales and management back in 2006, so that his father could concentrate on new product development and technical issues. Tian Guang Xiong divides his time between the end products business, and developing waste collection.
Over the past few years the company has shifted from distributors to direct sales In addition to the Shanghai plant, it now has a sister facility in Beijing, which also serves as a base for government relations. It is considering satellite plants in other regions of China, and developing business outside of China.
Says Tian Guang Xiong, "It's important for us to spend time in Beijing, because we need to be close to decision makers for environmental policy. New ideas and policies are being implemented at a rapid rate, sometimes including incentives for businesses like Linpai. To succeed we must be part of comprehensive solutions."
"China's ambition to lead with recycling solutions is growing. The time is right for us to have a complete plan for producing and recycling beverage cartons, because they are a good fit for our country. Over the next decade environmental progress will be significant, including all aspects of packaging," concludes Wan Jiayu, environment manager with Tetra Pak."
Martin Koepenick, Innova, Atlanta. GA. Martin has many years' experience covering the forest products industry and is a frequent contributor to PPI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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