WASHINGTON - The recycling rate for PET bottles is likely to decline in 1995 - largely because the rate isn't keeping up with rapid PET growth. ``Seems like the faster we go the behinder we get,'' Patricia Franklin, acting director of the Container Recycling Institute of Washington, said in a March 11 interview. ``We recycled more in 1995, but we're not keeping up with production.''
She said the U.S. commitment to local recycling programs, instead of a national deposit program, may not be paying off like the soft drink industry claims.
``The plastics industry would go bonkers if bottle-deposit bills [in the 10 states that have them] were repealed, because the recycling rate would plummet,'' she said.
Recycling and soft drink industry promoters, awaiting 1995 figures that may show a decrease in the recycling rate for PET for the first time in seven years, still believe overall recycling for the year has increased steadily.
``We may be recycling a little more, but we're still throwing too much away,'' Franklin said in a statement aimed at recent National Soft Drink Association promotional literature.
Franklin noted 18 percent of the 78 billion soft drink containers used in the United States in a year are made of PET.
Charles McLendon, an analyst with the environmental research firm R.W. Beck and Associates in Orlando, Fla., that annually compiles plastics recycling data, said, ``It is going to be very difficult for PET recycling to show as good results in 1995 as in 1994.''
``This is not for the lack of recycling access'' to the consumer public, McLendon pointed out.
``The denominator in the recycling equation is growing faster than the numerator,'' he said.
The national recycling rate is determined by dividing the amount of plastics recycled - the numerator - by the amount of resin, both virgin and recycled, actually used - the denominator.
To illustrate the growth of that denominator, the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s 1995 resin use projections show an 18.7 percent increase in sales and captive use of thermoplastic polyester in the United States and Canada over 1994, or roughly 3.8 billion pounds over 1994's 3.2 billion.
Overall, the SPI projections show a much-smaller 3.4 percent increase in the growth of total resin use from 1994-95.
``The problem is going to be difficult to solve,'' McLendon said. ``Communities that can afford to start curbside recycling collection programs have done so and are just about tapped. Plus, resin is going into some products that are not being recycled.''
He cited single-service soda containers, consumed away from the home and its curbside collection program, as one of the possible factors in the PET rate drop.
Franklin said NSDA's 1994 claim of a 48.6 percent recycling rate for PET soft drink bottles nationwide is boosted by the 75 percent or better recycling rate of the 10 states requiring consumers put a deposit on soft drink bottles.
The overall recycling rate for 1994 for soft drink containers - including aluminum and glass as well as PET - was 61 percent.
``What's so great about 61 percent, anyway?'' Franklin asked. ``Sixty-one percent was an `F' when I was in school.''
New national recycling figures for PET are expected in late April, around Earth Day, said E. Gifford Stack, NSDA vice presiden, environmental affairs, in Wash-ington.
NSDA has been a strongs opponent to expanding bottle deposit legislation to additional states.
``In deposit states, 75-90 percent [soft drink container recycling] can probably be noticed. But at what cost, and at what inconvenience to the consumer, wholesaler and retailer?'' Stack asked.
Stack also questioned why the Container Recycling Institute would concentrate on material that he said the Environmental Protection Agency believes constitutes slightly more than 1 percent of the waste stream in the nation.
As for a possible drop in the recycling rate, Stack said rates historically have grown since their first formal measurement in 1989.
``Clearly, as America shows its desire to drink soft drinks, it shows its desire to recycle,'' he said.