RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Sun, 17 Oct 1999 15:34:11 -0500

Blair Pollack asked: "If anyone knows the latest on the
recyclability/unrecyclability of
PVC bottles, I'd love to hear it. Also if there's hard evidence regarding
any toxicity issues in the production of PVC or leaching in its use, I'd
like to refer to that as well. Thank you."

At the Plastic Redesign Project (a coalition of state recycling officials)
we have done extensive research on the recyclability issue (we have no
position with regard to the toxicity issues).

With regard to recyclability, the key distinction to bear in mind is
ECONOMIC recyclability, because, obviously, anything is TECHNICALLY
recyclable given the application of sufficient resources.

In the past, recyclers have been told to accept PVC because equipment
exists to remove PVC from PET bales.

This is true -- up to a point -- but it does not tell us how much it is
costing us to utilize that equipment. The x-ray autosort technology which
is used to detect the chlorine molecule in a PVC bottle is both very
expensive and, in the field, much more inefficient than desk-top tests

That is to say, the quality of the incoming stream at intermediate
reclaimers is highly degraded because it has been baled (at a compression
ratio of approximately 30:1) with other contaminants as well as other
bottles and shipped. Even after 2-3 cents per pound in expense is incurred
to debale and singulate the stream, clumping of a PET and PVC bottle still
exists, and labels and contaminants impede readings.

Thus in the real world, if detectability is turned up on the equipment to
overcome these limitations in order insure that the PVC is removed,
unacceptable quantities of false positives -- i.e. good PET -- is rejected
at the same time. Consequently additional measures such as costly multiple
passes that reduce throughputs in half or more, additional manual
sortation, etc., must be added to the equation. In the end, the cost of
detecting the 1-4% of the PET stream that represents the very few bottles
molded from PVC is typically more than 6 cents per pound.

But that is only half of the cost that recyclers bear. For even after we
spend 6+ cents per pound to pull out the very small quantities of PVC
remaining, some PVC usually still remains which causes yellowing and specks
and impedes its ability to be used in higher end sheet and bottle
applications. That downgrading results in the loss of another 4-6 cents
per pound.

Lastly, the significant expense to install the equipment (about $200,000
when infeeding and other ancillary costs are factored in) creates a barrier
to entry into the reclamation business, and may be lowering the prices that
processors would otherwise pay recyclers.

That is to say, the residual presence of PVC (now less than 1.5% of the
bottle stream) is costing recyclers in the order of 12 cents per pound --
or 50% more than the 8 cents per pound we're getting for our PET bales.

Often the current economics of recycling is defined as working to make
plastics recycling recover over time the processing costs at the MRF and
reclaimer, so that, after subtracting the cost they pay MRFs, they can
competitively sell into the low-paying fiber markets. Definitionally,
those making the decisions about how far to push design and content issues
have taken the position that no recovery is justified for the additional
collection costs to include plastics. This has been said to rest content
with plastics recycling so long as the bale price doesn't fall below 6
cents per pound.

However, as to that part of the supply chain which is ignored, the
estimates for collecting plastics vary but often run more than $1,000 per
ton. That is a substantial burden to leave on the municipalities which
operate directly or through franchises these collection programs.

That burden is compounded further by the fact that there is virtually no
performance or marketing reason left to use PVC resin in bottles. The
price for PET, which similarly provides a clear finish for marketing such
things as window washer and salad oil, is comparable to PVC in volume.
Thus, the large brands have never had a cost need to use PVC and now
merchant molders offer small and store brands competitive standard size PET
bottles as well. The large 32 ounce bottles with handles that could not be
molded with PET are now available in PET competitively with other
comparable configurations.

That is to say, the cities are absorbing a very significant loss (which can
be estimated by multiplying the annual quantity of PET from each program by
12 cents per pound) for no reason except old habits that die slowly.

Is that a reasonable exercise of producer responsibility? I think we need
to ask the cities what they think about that.

Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011