A shortage of recycled high density polyethylene has disrupted Xerox Corp.'s plan to use 100 percent post-consumer plastic in its toner bottles. Last year, Xerox used about 500,000 pounds of recycled HDPE in containers made at its Webster, N.Y., plant. It could use as much as 2 million pounds annually, but tight supplies have forced the company to revert to virgin HDPE.
Karl Mueller, a project manager at the plant, said much of the recycled HDPEcame from Mobil Chemical Co., which phased out its supply operations in November.
``We had no washing or reprocessing capability for HDPE,'' said Jim Hussey, manager of recycling technology for Mobil in Reston, Va. ``We were buying recycled material, reprocessing it to our specifications and packaging it for sale.''
Hussey said Mobil helped customers find new suppliers to ease the transition. But some, like Xerox, found it difficult to locate enough material.
``We tried getting as much recycled HDPE from other suppliers, but had to revert to virgin to take up the slack,'' said Mueller, who still is trying to find material at ``reasonable prices.''
``It was a buyer's market when we started the program last year,'' Mueller said. ``Now it's become a seller's. We're hoping the pendulum swings the other way again.''
In 1991, Xerox expanded its toner and print cartridge return programs by providing processes and incentives for consumers to return their used cartridges to Xerox, where they are remanufactured for reuse or recycled. Currently, consumers return about half of the Xerox cartridges sold, according to George Barnes, manager of environmental strategy.
To keep on track with its 1990 goal of 90 percent waste reduction by 1998, Xerox implemented a program April 22 to clean and reuse some plastic toner containers.
Xerox provides self-addressed mailing labels, monetary incentives and instructions for returning one line of toner containers in their cartons to Xerox for cleaning and reuse. Mueller said the rate of return so far is about 15 percent, which is higher than the company anticipated.
The firm also is looking at a way to convert some of its paper tube cartridges to plastic to make them more conducive to reuse and recycling.
Xerox is not the first company to back off plans to use more recycled HDPE. Clorox Co. of Pleasanton, Calif., and Procter & Gamble Co. of Cincinnati have cut back on recycled plastics in packaging, blaming shrinking supplies and rising prices.