A special task force formed by the Environmental Protection Agency recommends making sweeping changes to plastics containers to facilitate recycling. In its preliminary report, released late last month, the City/Industry Plastic Bottle Redesign Project also recommends that municipal and private materials recovery facilities consider cleaning and grinding the waste plastics they collect.
``In many instances, material recovery facilities have given up collecting plastic containers, or have a very difficult time doing so, because the sortation, baling, and cleaning of it is very expensive,'' said Peter Anderson of RecycleWorlds Consulting Inc., a Milwaukee environmental consulting company.
Anderson was hired to facilitate the project for the EPA. His view is echoed in the report's introduction.
``Public interest in plastics recycling has grown tremendously over the past decade. Municipalities, responding to the public interest, are adding plastics to their curbside collection programs. Unfortunately, local solid waste officials are finding that plastic collection and processing is consistently more expensive than for other recyclables on a pound-for-pound basis,'' the report stated.
The project was undertaken to find alternatives to establishing EPA mandates. Major problems cited by the project include differences in resin types between caps and the bottles themselves; the many look-alike resins used for bottles; and labels and adhesives, which are difficult to separate from the plastic.
The group also recommended more research on better and lower-cost automatic sorting devices, efficient small-volume flake and pellet-making machinery and specific machinery to accomplish cap and label changes, to separate PVC from the waste stream. Also, the group identified the need to address concerns about metal springs and balls in pumps.
``The idea was to focus on specifics in a smaller group, but certainly there are implications for the industry worldwide,'' said Susan Mooney, an EPA environmental scientist and a participant in the project.
Mooney said the recommendations could be helpful to collection agencies, if they are implemented.
``Even if one company changes, that is good,'' she said. ``But the more that institute specific changes, the better.''
``In addition to focusing on technical things that could make it less expensive to recycle plastic bottles, we also looked at adding value to the materials the curbside collections take in, such as integrating their operations to include not only sorting bottles by resin type, but cleaning and grinding them as well,'' Anderson said.
This approach could threaten what the report called ``intermediate reprocessors,'' to whom most MRFs send their sorted or baled bottle materials, but is worthy of investigation, the report concluded.
According to Anderson, per-haps the key to the success or failure of the initiative is whether the recommendations are implemented throughout the industry.
``What we were trying to do is put all the parts of the puzzle together,'' he said. ``The benefit of implementing only one of the recommendations, or of only one company making changes, is not as great as the sum.''
The group, convened at the behest of EPA last year, consists of representatives of the cities of Dallas, Milwaukee, New York, San Diego, Seattle and Jacksonville, Fla., all of which operate MRFs. Also included in the group are officials of EPA, the states of New York and Wisconsin, packaging industry giants such as Johnson Controls Inc. and Owens-Illinois Inc., along with end-users such as SC Johnson Wax and Procter & Gamble Co.