Proposed laws would require 'not recyclable' labeling on biodegradable plastic containers

Published: April 3, 2013 4:00 pm ET
Updated: April 4, 2013 3:57 pm ET

Image By: Plastics News Scott Mouw

Related to this story

Topics Public Policy, Sustainability, Government & Legislation, Packaging

NEW ORLEANS — Laws proposed in North Carolina and Alabama could require containers made from biodegradable or compostable plastic to be labeled non-recyclable.

Filed last month, the proposed laws — House Bill 315, introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, and Senate Bill 298 and House Bill 468, introduced in the Alabama Legislature — would prevent any plastic containers, including beverage bottles, sold or distributed in those states from being labeled compostable, biodegradable or degradable unless the container is also clearly marked "not recyclable, do not recycle."

In Alabama, the proposed law would also require containers to comply with the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides before claiming to be compostable, biodegradable or degradable.

All three bills are currently in committee. If passed, they would go into effect July 1, 2014.

The proposed laws would cover resins containing degradable additives, as well as compostable bioresins like polylactic acid. They aim to prevent contamination of the plastics recycling stream and protect what has become a robust and growing industry in the Southeast, said regional recycling experts.

"We came to the conclusion that we had this very important part of our economy that we needed to protect, that we needed to grow, and we didn't want anything to slow that growth down," said Scott Mouw, state recycling program director in North Carolina.

More than 6,000 people in the Southeast work in manufacturing businesses that depend on using recycled plastic feedstock to make consumer-ready goods. About 60 facilities in the region contribute $3 billion in value to the domestic economy, according to the Southeast Recycling Development Council Inc., a nonprofit coalition of 11 states including North Carolina and Alabama.

In North Carolina, the recycling industry employs more than 15,000 and includes numerous plastic bottle reclaimers and manufacturers that use recycled plastic, according to HB 315.

Mouw discussed the bills, and gave an overview of North Carolina's recycling industry, in a presentation at the Plastics Recycling Conference, held March 19-20 in New Orleans.

He said the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, based in Raleigh, took an in-depth look at degradable plastics. The staff researched degradability claims made by manufacturers and the potential advantages of the material, and gathered the opinions of trade organizations and other industry players.

The department also talked with reclaimers and recyclers in the region, many of which had serious concerns about degradable plastics, including their ability to detect it in the recycling stream and the costs of accommodating degradable material.

Mouw quoted one North Carolina recycler as saying: "This is potentially a nightmare for us. It's going to diminish the faith that people have in this material as a feedstock and the products that are made from it."

According to the Southeast Recycling Development Council, de¬gradable additives prevent resin from being reliably recycled and manufactured into new products, and are not useful in reducing marine debris or controlling litter.

Other industry groups, including the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers and the National Association for PET Container Resources, echo that position.

"If we're trying to recycle resins, we need durable resin, not degradable resin. Recycling and degradability are really not compatible," said the council's executive director, Will Sagar, by telephone. "Neither one of these bills is banning [degradable] bottles; just labeling them so the consumer knows not to put them in recycling."

Sagar added that there might be good uses for degradable plastics, such as agricultural film, but those uses don't include PET bottles that are being recycled.

Conflicting messages of compostability, degradability and recyclability can confuse consumers, creating more problems for recyclers, Mouw said.

"The public is very confused about plastic bottle recycling, about recycling in general, so clarity is really important," he said.

Mouw illustrated his point with a water bottle from Project 7, a brand of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Products for Good Inc. made from PET with a biodegradable additive from Enso Plastics of Mesa, Ariz. The bottle's label says it will break down in a landfill in one to five years, but can also be recycled like regular PET. When confronted with mixed messages, consumers don't know what to do, he said.

Danny Clark, president of Enso, said the company does not claim that its ENSO Restore additive will break down in one to five years. Instead, the company claims that PET plastics enhanced with the additive will biodegrade in microbial environments more than 95 percent faster than plastics without the additive.

The Restore additive also does not contaminate the recycle stream, he said in an email.

Older technologies, such as degradable plastics and bioplastics, can be confused for standard plastics and contaminate the recycling streams of various polymers, he said. In contrast, Restore is a biodegrable technology and "is not considered a degradable or bioplastics technology and was specifically designed to comingle with the existing recycle streams."

So far, people seem to understand the importance of the plastics recycling industry in North Carolina, Mouw said later in a phone interview, adding that the bill has a "positive path forward."

The degradable industry might try to campaign against the proposed law, but it doesn't have a physical footprint in the region. Meanwhile, recycling is a strong, indigenous industry with some real concerns, he added.

Sagar would not predicate the bill's success in Alabama, but encouraged recyclers in the region to contact their legislators.


Comments

Proposed laws would require 'not recyclable' labeling on biodegradable plastic containers

Published: April 3, 2013 4:00 pm ET
Updated: April 4, 2013 3:57 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

DC banning PS foam containers

July 30, 2014 2:34 pm ET

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gra signed into law on July 29 a bill that will ban polystyrene foam food and drink containers from the District.    More

Image

Pressure is on to replace aging gas pipes

July 30, 2014 2:47 pm ET

Polyethylene is the plastic replacement material of choice for modernizing the natural gas distribution system — so much so some are concerned...    More

Image

Sainsbury, Schoeller Allibert to recycle food handling crates

July 30, 2014 1:37 pm ET

British retail group Sainsbury's has contracted Dutch recycler Schoeller Allibert BV to reprocess all of its old food crates back into food-grade...    More

Image

Vinyl siding's lead slips, but industry pushing back

July 29, 2014 2:04 pm ET

Vinyl siding continues to be the top cladding choice for home builders and remodelers but fiber cement is gaining ground — at an alarming rate...    More

Image

Reynolds considering sale of Closure Systems International unit

July 29, 2014 10:32 am ET

Packaging giant Reynolds Group Holdings Ltd. has put its closures business under review.    More

Market Reports

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events