Moving recycled plastic

  • 2008-11-26
  • By Adam Mullett

DETERIORATE: Each time plastic is recycled, it loses quality until it eventually ends up in a landfill.

Though we are often unaware of them, we are constantly surrounded by plastics. They make up the majority of most people's possessions and waste products. While the plastics industry in the Baltics is small, it is relatively old, steadily growing and full of innovative ways of using and reusing plastics. In this week's Industry Insider, we take a look at recycling plastic in the Baltics, alongside Latvia's production of biodegradable bags and a snapshot of some of the major players in Estonia's plastics industry.

VILNIUS - Recycled plastic from the Baltics is used for a number of products, most of which will be shipped off to the large markets in Western Europe or Asia, never to be seen again in this part of the world.
Products of the plastic recycling industry make their way to other countries because Baltic companies generally do not command the market share required for profitable production.
Large quantities of plastic collected and recycled are sent to other centers like China or Germany. Companies in these countries do one of three things with the plastic 's produce something from it, continue to recycle it or sell it on to others in their region.

"Only half of what we sort and deliver will be recycled here 's the rest of it will be sold to Germany or China. There is a lot of plastic sold to China," said Andrius Pocius, sales manager at EcoService, a Lithuanian waste collection and sorting company.
Unless a company recycles and produces new products in-house, it is often not worth making recycled plastics in the Baltics. Most companies in the region, such as EcoService, simply help move plastic on to other centers. Even this is not wildly profitable because of the tight market and shortage of supply.

Nores Plastic Ltd. is one of the largest exporters of secondary 's recycled 's raw plastic materials in the Baltics. General Director Rober Domak said the lack of industrial waste is a stymieing factor in his business.
"The problem we have in the Baltics is that there isn't enough volume of waste. There is not enough industry in the region for us to be competitive," he said.

Domak reported that they are largely reliant on post-consumer (PC) plastic collection, coming from recycling collection bins and household waste.
"Forty percent comes from factories and 60 percent comes from post-consumer waste. The post-consumer waste collection in the Baltics is good," he said.
Despite good PC waste collection, the location and size of the Baltics does not provide a critical mass for strong profits on resales.

"We suffer from our location. If we were in the center of Europe, we would be able to get more in touch with everyday production," Domak said.
"It is not easy to find good quality material to buy. There is always lack on the market. The consumption falls and the demand of recycled raw material is going down also," said Vytas Poderis, head of development and communication at Plasta, a plastic recycling and production house.

Often the products produced locally will reach foreign markets as well. Janis Cauna, Managing Director of PET Baltija, one of the largest plastic recyclers of the region, said their markets for buying and selling are not in the Baltics.
"We sell our products to Russia, Germany, France, the U.K., [and] Europe for food applications, packaging strapping, textiles and of course PET bottles."
Following the success of their business, they have expanded their production facilities and their procurement web.

"We have recently increased the size of our production five times and we have found that there aren't enough bottles used locally. We buy them from Costa Rica, Iceland, the U.S.A. and China 's this is not a local business, it is global," he said.
The price fetched for the plastic is often dependent on external factors. Cauna said that one of his company's biggest current problems is the fluctuation of fuel prices.
"The price of fuel dropping three months in a row has actually made a problem for us. Now we have a lot of stock, which we bought at a high price, but now the market price has dropped and we are stuck with three months of plastic," he said.

To reduce the costs, some businesses do both recycling and production in house. Plasta in Lithuania was once one of the biggest plastic production houses in the Soviet territory and managed to survive the collapse of the union.
Part of their strategy has been to use recycled plastic. The strategy took root in 1993, when Italian technology was imported for the factory.
Since then, they have profited from internal synergy between recycling and production, Poderis said.
"We start from unique recycling machinery production in-house and finishing with our own logistics systems," he said.

By performing all the steps of the process in-house, Plasta is able to stay viable. They are, however, also susceptible to forces outside their control.
"It is clear that our biggest challenge will be to compensate the increase of the electricity price. [The] biggest part of plastic cost is in electricity. So, it is already three years when we are investing intensively into automation and the upgrade of old equipment," Poderis said.

Plastic cannot be recycled to the same quality it starts out as. Domak explained that it is not possible to truly recycle plastic.
"It will never be the same quality 's this is not recycling, but downcycling because in the end, all the plastic will end up in the landfill. At every step, the plastic is losing quality."
"We can sell our product for a range of prices. [It costs] 100 euros for a ton of dirty, low quality waste and 1,000 euros for a ton of high quality plastic. It depends if it is from supermarket shopping bags or something high quality like airplane windows," he said.

The plastic that his company ships is used to make a number of products, including polyester for clothing, stuffing for toys, plastic film for waste bags or clear film for green houses, PVC dashboards for Porche cars, shoe soles, video cassette casing and pens.
Despite not getting a 100 percent return on investment, Poderis says it is important to recycle for the sake of the planet.

"Of course it is environmentally friendly technology and products. We are happy that not only Western Europe thinks 'green,' this trend is coming here too. There is no other more ecological way to get rid of the waste as converting it into product again."