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Industry making a new push to recycle plastic caps

By: Jim Johnson

September 18, 2013

LINCOLNSHIRE, ILL. — Consumers, for years, were told to take the caps off their plastic bottles before recycling.

While that made sense back in the day, that approach also led to countless plastic caps finding their way into landfills and the environment.

These days, with improved sorting and recycling technologies, those same caps can remain on the bottles and instead wind up with a useful afterlife.

But the problem is this that many folks don't realize that caps now can stay in place.

"These plastic caps have a lot of value," said Roy Robinson, vice president of business development at Portola Packaging Inc., at the Plastic Caps & Closures 2013 conference organized by Plastics News in Lincolnshire.

So the Caps On program was born a couple of years ago to provide public education about the shift in thinking. Along the way, however, the effort lost steam when the Closure & Container Manufacturers Association, where Caps On was born, merged into the International Society of Beverage Technologists.

But now, months after the merger, there's an opportunity to again focus on the program and restart the public awareness campaign.

While the caps are small, the opportunity to reduce waste is actually great as there are an estimated 250 billion caps produced from polypropylene or polyethylene each year.

"It's a lot of plastic," Robinson said. A billion and a half pounds worth.

The initial push with the Caps On program was to try to engage waste haulers and material recovery facilities, hoping they would then educate their customers about the benefits of leaving the caps on recycled bottles.

That outreach is still important, but the program now hopes to also spread the word more quickly by getting beverage makers involved.

Nestle Waters has shown interest in promoting the message, and Caps On hopes to attract other major companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. to help spread the world through their public outreach.

The goal, Robinson said, is "the adoption by the CPGs [consumer packaged goods companies] to get onboard, the retail companies, because they are touching people," Robinson said.

"The waste haulers and municipalities can probably talk all they want about putting the closure back on the bottle, but I think that CPGs and the retail guys have the money, they have the communication links to the consumer. And if you can get them to drive it, I think you will see increased rates," he said.

"It's still a learning process. It's still in its infancy in getting the message out," Robinson said.

Mike Cappelli is marketing manager for caps and closures at Nova Chemicals Inc. and is involved with the Caps On program.

CCMA's move to join up with ISBT provides an opportunity to promote the program, he said. ISBT has more beverage industry members.

"I hope this doesn't sound too Polyanna-ish. A small change of behavior can make a difference. We're not asking people to change their lifestyle. We're not asking people to buy another recycling bin. We're not asking people to bag up caps and drive across town to put them in some special bin. We're asking people to take an extra three seconds," Cappelli said.

Laura Olsen is in marketing communications for Portola Packaging, so it's not surprising that she believes engaging the both ISBT members and general public is a key. But she realizes that also will not be easy.

"That's our challenge, that's our call to action," she said. "I think we're in the planning stage in how we're going to get interest and people on board with us from ISBT," Olsen said.