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Single-resin focus undercuts recycling efforts

By: William R. Carteaux
Steve Russell
Carol Hochu

August 24, 2012

At a time when our industry’s critics are questioning the success of plastics recycling, it is important that we work together on methods to increase recycling and recovery of all plastics. For that reason we respectfully take issue with the general thrust of the recent Perspective [“In Recycling, Numbers Matter,” Page 6, Aug. 20].

As the leaders of the three plastics associations that comprise the North American Plastics Alliance (NAPA), we have made cooperation and coordination a priority so that we can have “one voice, one vision.” We use that voice to tout the benefits of all plastics and the innovations they enable in construction, automobiles, packaging and beyond.

We do not believe an approach to recycling that focuses on only one resin will help achieve the long-term goals of the overall plastics industry. A single-resin orientation discourages the collection and recycling of other resins — and it does not help public education efforts to increase recycling.

Many plastics — from film and bags to polystyrene — are being recycled right here at home. Here are just a few non-PET examples from recent reports by the American Chemistry Council and Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers:

• HDPE bottles collected represent 984 million pounds in 2010, which translates to a recycling rate of 29.9 percent.

• 826 million pounds of non-bottle rigids were recycled in 2010 — this represents a 72 percent increase from 2009. Non-bottle rigids include mostly HDPE and PP items.

• 971 million pounds of film were recovered in 2010, mostly HDPE and LDPE.

Plastics collection and recycling are on the rise in North America, and that is good news that should be touted publicly for our entire industry. Our member companies have invested significant resources in recycling all types of post-industrial scrap and post-consumer materials into feedstocks, and communities are rapidly expanding their residential recycling programs to capture new materials.

For example, in 2008, of the top 100 most populous communities in the United States, only 29 had access to plastics recycling beyond #1 and #2 bottles. By 2011 that number had more than doubled to 59. Major communities that have added non-bottle rigids collection to their programs in recent years include New York City, Philadelphia, Westchester, N.Y., and Onodaga County, N.Y.

Our organizations are working to increase collaboration among industry organizations, and to provide solutions to our most pressing challenges. Leaders from a dozen plastics associations have met twice since NPE2012 to explore opportunities to do even more. The SPI-NAPCOR partnership on the PET thermoform recycling grant program is but one of many examples of plastics organizations working together. 

We all should be combining our efforts to show that recycling works and to improve the rates for all plastics. Pitting one plastic against others is not the direction our industry should be headed.

William R. Carteaux

SPI 

Steve Russell

American Chemistry Council

Carol Hochu

Canadian Plastics Industry Association