WASHINGTON - Plastic bottle recycling jumped 21 percent in 1994, thanks to strong markets for post-consumer PET and high density polyethylene, according to a study financed by the American Plastics Council. APC played up the good news - that 1 billion pounds, or 21.3 percent of plastic bottles, were recycled last year. However, the industry is still short of its 1991 goal of recycling 25 percent of bottles and rigid containers by 1995.
Some 17.2 percent of bottles and containers were recycled last year, up from 15.9 percent in 1993.
PET and HDPE dominate the container market - they account for 92 percent of U.S. rigid plastic bottles and containers -and APC concentrated on those recycling success stories.
Some 32.6 percent of PET bottles were recycled in 1994, an increase of 22 percent, according to the study by R.W. Beck and Associates of Seattle and Ernst & Young of Washington.
For HDPE, 17 percent of the total bottles were recycled, up 21 percent.
Washington-based APC did not release recycling rate figures for other plastic resins. Many other plastics, including PVC, polypropylene and polystyrene, have registered significantly lower recycling rates than PET and HDPE in years past.
``We will be releasing that information in the future. We do not have current statistics'' on other materials, said Ron Williams, APC spokesman.
Some in the recycling community acknowledged the success stories of PET and HDPE; however, they noted that prices for those materials may be slipping in 1995.
``Where do we go from here?'' wondered Tom Tomaszek, vice president and general manager of AEC Inc.'s SBU Operations, a recycling equipment company in North Uxbridge, Mass.
``The more material you col-lect, the more difficult it is going to be to show improvement in the recycling rate. I think we'll have a stagnant 21 percent rate through 1995 and into 1996,'' Tomaszek said.
``The price of post-consumer feedstocks is coming down. There is less and less government interest in the need to collect recycled materials,'' Tomaszek said.
``I see more apathy among the general public, [which is] more concerned about whether it will have a job tomorrow than if it has put its plastic recycling bin at the curb,'' he said.
Tomaszek agreed with a speaker at a recent recycling conference who said, ``The low-hanging fruit has been picked.''
``Now the question is: How do you get people to collect, and how do you get those who are collecting to collect more?'' Tomaszek asked.
APC refined the way the study calculates the PET recycling rate for the 1994 survey.
Instead of relying on Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. resin statistics, compiled by Ernst & Young through a survey of resin suppliers, APC had Ernst & Young directly survey PET bottle makers to get a more accurate count of the number of bottles they produce.
Without stating how many PET manufacturers responded, APC noted in a press release that ``the participation rate for PET bottle manufacturers was extremely high.''
``We want to be able to do the same with other plastics in the future,'' Williams said.
The Association of Post-Consumer Plastics Recyclers, known as APR, cooperated with APC and R.W. Beck on the 1994 survey.
Chairman Dennis Sabourin, of recycler Wellman Inc. of Shrewsbury, N.J., said PET and HDPE bottles continue to be in short supply.
``The members of APR hope that more communities will take advantage of today's strong market for recovered plastic bottles and encourage the highest participation and capture rates possible,'' according to Sabourin.