CALIF. APPROVES CONTESTED RECYCLING RATE

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The California waste board broke a regulatory plastics recycling logjam Jan. 22, but several members criticized plastics manufacturers for not doing enough to encourage recycling.

In a 4-2 vote, the California Integrated Waste Management Board accepted a 23.3-25.9 percent-range as the state's overall 1995 recycling rate for rigid plastic packaging. The board, meeting in Sacramento, also directed use of the controversial methodology to determine future calculations.

New board member Steven R. Jones supplied the necessary fourth vote to accept the rates.

``The rate we adopted is good science,'' Jones said. ``It got us onto the next plateau.''

Previously, the board had failed to meet an obligation under a 1991 state law to annually calculate and certify recycling rates for plastic containers. The law requires industry to make packaging with 25 percent post-consumer material, make it reusable or refillable, or produce containers that use less resin. To date, the state has not enforced the law.

At the meeting, board members Jones, Paul Relis, Wesley Chesbro and Janet Gotch expressed concerns about the level of plastics recycling and the efforts of plastics manufacturers generally. Jones and Relis voted with the majority on the recycling rate; Chesbro and Gotch constituted the minority.

Jones said he advocates aggressive market development for recycled plastics.

``I would like to see development of new technologies'' through which recyclers could feed the recovered materials, Jones said.

``Where is the plastics industry going, vis-à-vis recycling?'' asked Relis. ``I am interested in holding a meeting shortly to take a focused look at where we are going with plastics.''

Relis holds a board seat reserved by law for a representative of the state's nonprofit environmental community.

Chesbro urged plastic packaging manufacturers and consumer product firms ``to significantly increase their efforts to develop markets for recovered containers and ensure the recycling of the containers sold in this state.''

Gotch said the plastics industry is ``trying to roll back mandates'' and ``needs to make the same movement in recycling as the paper industry has.''

The board action disappointed a recycling industry spokesman.

``I believe the decision defies logic and sends the wrong note to industry,'' said John Shedd, president of Talco Plastics Inc. in Whittier, Calif.

The vote was ``more than a technicality'' and ``means the plastics industry doesn't have to do anything,'' said Mark Murray, executive director of Sacramento-based environmental lobbyist Californians Against Waste.

``Not a person involved in recycling issues in California believes the plastics industry is doing a satisfactory job, and the one entity that could have done something to motivate the plastics industry to work harder to develop markets abdicated responsibility,'' Murray said.

``The public has shown capacity. Recyclers have shown capacity. It's a failure on the part of consumer products companies to demand recycled-content packaging.''

The vote constituted ``a final insult'' to the board's Recycling Rate Advisory Committee, Murray said. ``Over three years, the recommendations of many of us have been ignored by staff and by consultants.''

Murray and Shedd are among committee members.

Virgin resin producers and product purveyors have supported the CIWMB method of computing the rate. With CIWMB permission, Seattle-based Cascadia Consulting Group Inc. calculated the rate in a study for which the Washington-based American Plastics Council spent nearly $400,000.

The board decision pleased the APC and ``affirmed the recycling rate as falling within a range,'' said Roger Bernstein, APC senior director of government affairs.

Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Jones on Dec. 19 to a spot reserved for a representative of the state's solid waste industry, and the chief executive officer of Cal Sierra Disposal Inc. took office Jan. 6. Earlier, he spent nearly 20 years with Norcal Waste Systems.