California's 1995 plastic container recycling rate will remain in doubt until at least Sept. 25 after advocates for different methods of calculation failed to gain approval from California's waste board July 30. Instead, the five-member California Integrated Waste Management Board voted for a further study on how many plastic containers were recycled in 1995. The board's next scheduled meeting is in Salinas in September.
Meanwhile, enforcement of the state law requiring a 25 percent recycling rate for rigid plastic containers sold in the state in 1995 remains on hold.
If the rate is determined to be at least 25 percent, then every maker of plastics containers sold in the state is in compliance. If below, the state has the option of asking certain manufacturers to quantify their product's recycling on a container-by-container or manufacturer basis.
CIWMB spokesman Lanny Clavecilla said the board, looking at a recycling rate calculated at both 25.2 percent and 15.7 percent, ``needs some clarification on the discrepancy'' between the figures.
Frank DeVore, who sold his Tri-Plas Inc. molding company last year and who served on an American Plastics Council task force on the recycling rate, said, ``I'm very disappointed that they didn't certify the rate. We have worked diligently, we've gone way beyond what I would have thought possible'' to arrive at an acceptable recycling rate.
But recycling consultant Michael Kopulsky said the failure to arrive at a rate is ``probably a good thing. The effort spent on the denominator so far is not that spent on the numerator,'' he said.
Kopulsky defined the numerator as ``that which is collected for recycling, minus waste.'' The latter was ``cross-checked five different ways,'' especially by the APC study, he said. The gray area is the denominator: the amount of virgin resin used to make rigid plastic packaging sold in the state, he said.
Kopulsky, a member of the CIWMB's recycling rate advisory committee, is head of Global Priority Advisors Inc. of Encino, Calif.
Not only the rate but the definition of which plastic containers should be counted to arrive at a recycling rate continues to be in doubt.
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste in Sacramento, doesn't believe the numbers question is so important. Rather, he said, ``The waste board has adopted an overly narrow definition of plastic containers, inconsistent with the statute.'' It leaves out containers that could be counted as recycled, such as take-out containers, he said.
If the state doesn't arrive at a rate and a defendable methodology for 1995, it will have to repeat the process in 1996, said William Huston, CWIMB market development manager.
``If the state has to conduct its recycling survey again next year, they will have problems. APC told us [their help on determining a rate] was a one-time thing. APC spent $350,000 on this study this year, and it's not accurate enough for some people to accept as a recycling rate on its face. For the 1996 rate, we have $41,000 [in state money] to come up with a methodology and a rate.
``We have heard nothing that would indicate that more APC money is coming'' to determine a rate under state law next year, he said.
APC, through its consultant, Cascadia Consulting Group Inc. of Seattle, relied on the recycling rate method praised by Oregon's recycling community to arrive at a 25.2 percent recycling rate for California.
The cost of determining Oregon's 1995 rate, using the same methodology, was about $45,000, according to Pat Vernon, a solid waste policy manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Oregon claims a 31.9 percent recycling rate for 1995 and projects 33.3 percent recycling of rigid plastic containers in 1996.
According to CIWMB staff members, nearly 889 samples of rigid plastics packaging container waste were taken in a random process, from 24 landfills and transfer stations in California. More samples were taken in the more populous regions.
But the CIWMB staff, using what a staffer called ``fairly well-undefined national statistics,'' also came up with a more modest 15.7 percent recycling rate.