After months of deliberations, California's Integrated Waste Management Board still declines to declare that its residents last year recycled 25 percent of most rigid plastic containers sold in the state. Who can blame the board? Arriving at a rate is a gauzy process more akin to art than science. And it's not a job for which the board was originally created. Still, the economic ramifications of the board's acceptance of a rate are bottom-line hard.
If the board accepts one methodology that contends the state's recycling rate is 25 percent or greater, recyclers predict complacency among the public and will call for continuing education at public expense. If the rate is determined to be less than 25 percent, manufacturers will have to prove their individual products are being recycled - incurring a cost they will pass on to consumers.
The CIWMB is looking for the Holy Grail of rate determination, a process that is both statistically significant and politically palatable. Yet as one observer remarked, the CIWMB is spending an awful lot of time agonizing over the composition and effect of less than seven-tenths of 1 percent of the waste stream in the state.
Instead of making this an act of high dudgeon for an agency of the state of California, why not have the board show how attractive the job can be for the state's city councils and county commissions? They are the ones who pay for collecting the plastics.
Smaller government entities than the state can set more accurate goals at whatever levels they like. And if they can't make money at it, they can temporarily suspend the task, or bid it out to private contractors. In other words, get state governments out of the business of setting recycling rates.
Cutting the unsightly rush of plastic waste into our environment will occur when we can return the bottles for a deposit. That will do a lot to reduce the pitiful sight of discarded plastics that got the recycling movement rolling in the first place. California is one of 10 states that has a deposit law for beverage containers.
Now that CIWMB has chosen to delay its decision to at least Sept. 25, we can use that time to reflect on how the recycling rate concept it is following is dated and its goal a long-passed fad.
The pilot project initiated by the St. Louis office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect plastics workers is a commendable, proactive effort by the agency to foster cooperation with industry.
The voluntary program is designed to encourage plastics companies to use machine shut-off, lockout or tag-out safety devices during maintenance shutdowns and downtime. It came about after the OSHA branch noted a concentration of accidents from 1989-95, including six deaths, at 145 companies in eastern Missouri with the Standard Industrial Classification code for the rubber and plastics industry.
A program shortfall is the lack of any coordinated cooperation with insurance companies and Missouri's workers' compensation bureau. Bringing them into the tent would make a good program better.