Plastic bottle recycling rate falls again
By Steve Toloken
PLASTICS NEWS STAFF
WASHINGTON (July 14, 9:45 a.m. EDT) -- The plastic bottle
recycling rate fell to 22.1 percent in 1999, playing out a familiar story:
More plastic was collected for recycling, but that fact was dwarfed by
even larger increases in the amount of plastic bottles sold.
The overall bottle recycling rate fell from 23.5 percent in
1998, while the total volume collected for recycling rose from 1.45 billion
pounds in 1998 to 1.51 billion pounds last year, according to figures from
the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va. By comparison, 6.84 billion
pounds was made into bottles, up from 6.18 billion in 1998.
Because the recycling rate has not kept pace with the growth of plastic,
environmentalists bemoaned the huge increases in the number of plastic
bottles sent to landfills -- 15.1 billion plastic soda bottles discarded in
1998, compared with 7.6 billion in 1994, according to an analysis from the
Container Recycling Institute in Arlington.
The rate for PET bottles fell from 24.4 percent in 1998 to 22.8 percent
last year, while the rate for homopolymer high density polyethylene fell
from 30.7 percent in 1998 to 29.7 percent in 1999, APC said. In both cases,
more plastic was collected -- 740 million pounds of PET, up 30 million
pounds from 1998, and 446.7 million pounds of homopolymer HDPE, up 13
Both environmentalists and recycling industry officials offered familiar
reasons -- more single-serve containers that are in both PET and HDPE, and
more packaging switching over to plastic in noncarbonated drinks.
While rates fall, recyclers continue to say they cannot get enough material
and could process much more.
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers is meeting July 19 in
Atlanta to look at solutions to getting more material from existing
collection systems. And some bottle makers say they see renewed interest
from consumer-product companies in using recycled content.
"We´re trying like heck to get people to recycle more," said Steve
Babinchak, president of PET recycler St. Jude Polymer in Frackville, Pa.
Schuykill County, where St. Jude is located, placed bins to collect plastic
at about 20 supermarket and shopping-mall parking lots around the county in
February, Babinchak said. A county-provided truck collects the material,
crushes it and delivers it to St. Jude, the only local recycler set up to
take both PET and HDPE, he said.
While he did not have numbers, he said the program has succeeded in pturing
material that otherwise would be thrown out. The program was funded by
grants from the state of Pennsylvania, and is being expanded to other
counties, he said.
APR, based in Arlington, has formed a group to look specifically at
boosting PET recycling, Babinchak said. Programs like the effort in
Schuykill County are the long-term solution to raising recycling rates
because consumer product makers like Coca-Cola Co. have made it clear they
remain opposed to bottle bills, he said.
Political pressure from states like California is playing a part in
boosting interest in recycled content in HDPE bottles, said Gerald Claes,
director of environmental programs with Graham Packaging Co. in York, Pa.
"We are seeing a lot more recycled plastic going into bottles this year
compared to last year," he said. "Customers are very interested. ... The
bottle industry is pushing as hard this year as they´ve ever pushed."
Claes said he thinks an all-bottle recycling program advocated by the
American Plastics Council has a lot of potential to boost recycling.
APC has not released the numbers officially, but has presented them to APR
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