After four flat years, plastics recycling took off at the end of 1994, leaving existing collection systems flat-footed and inadequate. Now some plastics recyclers are calling for new collection schemes to keep up with skyrocketing demand.
Marty Forman, a former plastics recycler as president of Poly-Anna Plastics Inc. of Milwaukee, and now a member of the board of directors of the National Recycling Coalition, headquartered in Washington, recently addressed an open letter to recyclers nationwide, calling for a national collection initiative.
Forman said today's sky-high prices for baled post-consumer bottles have not resulted in great increases in the collection rate.
Calling the right kind of bottle bill a ``silver bullet'' for the industry, Forman noted that about 60 percent of the available feedstock bottles are coming from 10 states where legislation of some sort is in place.
Forman said a deposit law not only would increase the quantity of available bottles, it also would generate about $700 million in unredeemed deposits that could support recycling.
``The conception of the silver bullet, from our point of view, becomes reality if the millions in unredeemed deposits can now become earmarked in the com-munities responsible for implementing curbside recycling programs.''
Soda bottles and milk jugs are the most sought-after post-consumer plastics commodities. Recyclers report that the prices for those commodities have tripled in a short period.
But the availability of such post-consumer materials has not increased as dramatically as the demand.
Many materials recovery facilities have not kept pace with the demand for the feedstocks, operators say, because plastics were too expensive to recycle until this year.
Wellman Inc. of Shrewsbury, N.J., also has voiced concern over better recycling rates, and the need for some sort of nationwide reclamation system. Wellman is the largest recycler of PET bottles in the world.
In a recent study of supply and demand, projecting needs and growth through the turn of the century, Wellman estimated that demand for recycled PET will be about 1 billion pounds by 1999, and will outstrip supply by about 189.5 million pounds. The most dramatic growth may be in the area of PET sheet made from post-consumer PET, the report concluded.
The Wellman study calls for a ``renaissance in collection,'' but stops short of calling for bottle deposits or legislation mandating content.
Dennis Sabourin, Wellman's vice president for planning, noted that there should be more supply-side recycling based on ``new remedies for currently inadequate curbside programs.''
Among the remedies he suggested are that recycling promotions be included in the advertising campaigns of beverage makers and other end users, that header tags be used on PET bottles to stimulate reclamation, and that there be more education about and support for collection.
``The shortage of supply isreal,'' Sabourin said. ``There is enough material out there, but there needs to be a much greater emphasis on reclaiming it,'' he said.
The Association of Post-consumer Plastics Recyclers estimated in a recent study that 35 percent of the material being taken in by its members is natural-color high density polyethylene and 30 percent is clear PET. Another 20 percent is mixed-color HDPE, and about 7 percent is green PET.
The APR study concluded that more needs to be done to make the separation, sortation and initial processing of scrap more efficient, including redesigning caps and closures to be more compatible with the bulk of the bottle material.
APR issued guidelines for easing recycling difficulties, including the problems created by labels, glue and pigmentation.
Many of the study respond-ents mentioned the difficulties not only of separating the plastics, but also of removing the other exotic material that finds its way into the post-consumer waste stream, such as coat hangers, laundry hampers, live snakes and, in one case, a live hand grenade.