WASHINGTON - For at least another year, plastic pipe and geotextiles have been kept off the federal government's special list of recycled-content products it encourages its agencies to buy. The Environmental Protection Agency announced the decision May 1.
The absence of these two categories came after public comments on 21 suggested item categories raised serious questions about the effectiveness, durability and safety of plastic pipe and geotextiles containing recycled content, according to comments published in the Federal Register.
But Terry Grist, acting chief of the recycling section in the EPA's Office of Solid Waste, said ``there was not sufficient time to resolve questions'' about whether to issue an EPA rule on either item. ``Rather than rush the [remaking] process, we issued the rule without these items. It is our hope to stay in touch with the plastics industry to get some answers to the issues raised.
``Hopefully, by the next go around next year, we will be able to designate or not designate these two items'' in a list of recycled-content items recommended for government procurement, Grist said.
The Federal Register noted ASTM specifications preclude the use of recovered materials in plastic pipe and fittings, but there is a major effort to review and possibly revise these specifications. Also, ``EPA has become aware that many manufacturers and users of plastic pipe do not believe that adequate testing has been conducted,'' the official publication noted.
Comments on geotextiles to EPA questioned the use of recovered resins, which ``could result in catastrophic failures if used in critical applications such as in landfills and road construction.''
Frank Hollowell, marketing manager for Synthetic Industries in Chicamauga, Tenn., said he believed the EPA's current exclusion of geotextiles ``is an intelligent move.'' Synthetic is a major manufacturer of polypropylene products used in geotextiles.
``It's important for manufacturers who walk a fine line. On the one hand, you have to meet performance expectations and on the other, recycling expectations. The more this becomes an industry decision, the better off we'll be,'' Hollowell said.
Eleven of the 19 recycled-content items recommended for government purchase include some plastic: carpet, floor tile, traffic cones, traffic barricades, playground surfaces, office recycling containers, office waste containers, plastic desktop accessories, (printer) toner cartridges, binders and trash bags.
If the cost of the recycled-content item is above a reasonable level, agencies have latitude whether to buy that item or one made with virgin material.
Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton signed executive orders noting the federal government should serve as a model for cost-effective waste prevention and recycling.