WASHINGTON - The plastics industry seems likely to fall way short of California's target for recycling plastics packaging, and the American Plastics Council has withdrawn its offer to help the state track progress toward meeting the goals. The determination of a recycling rate, a politically explosive process required by the 1990 California Rigid Plastics Packaging law, has huge implications for container makers. If the overall goals are not met, then each manufacturer must comply individually.
In general, the law says overall plastics recycling must reach 25 percent this year-although PET has a target of 55 percent.
``The best guess is the overall [California] recycling rate is in the range of 17-20 percent, and for PET containers may be close to 55 percent,'' said William G. Huston, market development manager for the California Integrated Waste Management Board, and the official charged with implementing the law.
But Huston said the board is having trouble estimating how many tons of plastics are sold in the state.
Washington-based APC had planned to give the state $75,000 to finance a study to calculatethe recycling rate.
But APC cut off most of its involvement in late February, complaining that it deserved more than one vote on a 13-member Recycling Rate Advisory Committee, and because the CIWMBinsisted on using a formula that APC believed shortchanged the plastics industry.
The waste management board planned to compare recycling figures with total resin production statistics, rather than isolate the amount of resin used to make the 8-ounce to 5-gallon containers covered in the state recycling regulations.
APC now plans to undertake its own study of California's recycling rate, independently of that conducted by the state.
``This cannot be done on some formula based on resin sales,'' said Roger Bernstein, APC's senior director of state government affairs.
He added, ``It's premature for anyone who hasn't embarked on any rate analysis to ascertain what that rate is. It needs to be empirically based. ... My guess is that we are within range [of the mandated recycling goals]. That has to be borne out in third-party work.''
A March 9 letter from Ralph E. Chandler, CIWMB executive director, to Bernstein said: ``We will pursue development of the methodology through other avenues and will look forward to receiving input from your organization as we do so.''
The meeting was in response to a Feb. 21 letter Bernstein wrote then-board Chairman Edward G. Heidig, to ``raise serious concern regarding the sincerity of CIWMB to work cooperatively with the APC to develop a contract with a consulting firm to measure the recycling rate for rigid plastic packaging containers.''
R.W. Beck & Associates, a Seattle consulting firm that also tracks national plastics recycling data for APC, had planned to bid on the contract to determine California's rates. Bernstein emphasized he had no connection with Beck's bid and that APC and Beck had approached California officials separately.
Californians Against Waste, a Sacramento-based recycling activist group, had questioned whether APC's plan to finance the plastics recycling rate study could be classified as a conflict of interest, particularly if the study were conducted by Beck.
``The result of this initial recycling rate calculation will determine whether the manufacturers represented by the APC will be required to implement any of the market development obligations outlined in the statute,'' Mark Murray, CAW executive director, wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to CIWMB staff member Stephen Storelli.
APC's involvement in the recycling rate controversy also has troubled recyclers.
``The APC deserves as much blame as anyone else, and had they not involved themselves, the state might have been able to determine a rate by itself,'' said Michael Kopulsky, president of recycler Envirothene Inc. in Chino, Calif.
For APC to say that the state is solely at fault is wrong, asserts Kopulsky, who also is a member of the special recycling committee.
``I call it the chutzpah defense - the APC started lobbying and having private meetings with the board, then they threw roadblocks in front of a decision.''
By law, if the amount of general plastic packaging sold in the state is not recycled at a 25 percent rate or higher, manufacturers selling plastic containers in the state will have to do one of the following:
Demonstrate that their individual packages are recycled at a 45 percent rate.
Use less material.
Sell refillable bottles.