Industry not obstacle to recycling plastics

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The plastics industry is not an obstacle to recycling. But despite all the effort many have put into recycling, that’s not universally understood outside the industry.

I’ve been writing editorials for Plastics News pushing for expanding bottle-deposit programs for almost 20 years.

In a 1994 column favoring a national deposit program, I wrote:

“Certainly this would appear to be a radical idea. But consider the benefits to the industry: It would provide recyclers with a plentiful supply of clean, uncontaminated raw material.

Supporting, rather than opposing, the legislation would provide a shot in the arm for the industry’s environmental image. It would give a huge boost to the industry’s recycling rate — which may be needed if plastics packaging is to reach its goal of recycling 25 percent of bottles and rigid containers by 1995.”

It may surprise readers outside the industry to learn that my column did not prompt an outcry from readers, or a slew of canceled subscriptions. That’s because, despite the reputation that plastics may have, your average plastics industry executive/company owner/worker is not opposed to recycling.

As I’ve written before, many actually consider themselves environmentalists. And the fact that they work in plastics doesn’t present a moral dilemma. They know that plastics can help save energy and materials in many applications.

Why bring this up today? Because I spotted a column on’s “Green” page headlined “How to Increase Plastic Bottle Recycling.”

I don’t want to pick on the author, Diane MacEachern, who also wrote the book Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World. Because I agree with her goal — to boost plastics recycling. But her column seems to imply that plastics manufacturers are the obstacle. MacEachern writes:

“Consider single-use plastic water bottles. Companies that manufacture the billions of plastic water bottles flooding the market claim the product is ‘eco friendly’ because the bottles are recyclable.

“In reality, only 12 percent of the 15 billion throwaway water bottles manufactured each year are being recycled. ... That being the case, manufacturers should make good on their claim that their bottles are recyclable by putting a deposit on the bottles to ensure they’re returned to a recycling facility.”

First — and this is a relatively minor point — the 2010 U.S. recycling rate for PET bottles was 29.1 percent. I think that’s a more relevant number to cite. But the more importantly, her column may give readers the impression that plastic bottle manufacturers are opposed to plastics recycling. And that’s just not true.

If anything, bottle manufacturers would like access to more high-quality recycled PET — the kind that they could get from expanded bottle-deposit programs.

And in the spirit of America Recycles Day, let me thank all the readers who diligently recycle all of their plastic containers — whether or not they get a dime in the process.

Loepp is editor of  Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”