A consortium representing public recyclers in 32 states is studying ways the plastic packaging industry can redesign bottles to increase their recyclability and value.
``What we're looking for is win-win solutions for the packaging industry and recycling,'' said Peter Anderson of Madison, Wis.-based RecycleWorlds Consulting and director of the Plastic Redesign Project.
``This would hopefully take a lot of pressure off the packaging industry, and hopefully the industry will feel this is a much-preferred route than the rigidity of mandates.''
The project first formed in 1994 with the goal of increasing the price communities receive for post-consumer plastic bottles by improving their design for recyclability.
Now in its second phase, the group is seeking input before finishing recommendations and presenting them to packaging industry representatives at a conference scheduled for spring 1998, Anderson said.
Grants totaling more than $51,000 from the national and regional offices of the Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Wisconsin system are funding the second phase.
``I think our interest is in the process used, gathering interested parties together and getting things moving to keep plastics recycling going,'' said Susan Mooney, an environmental scientist with the EPA's Region 5 in Chicago.
City recycling coordinators and plastics industry representatives participated in the first phase, also funded by the EPA. The group reached a consensus in 1995 on 13 suggested redesigns. They included: making caps on high density polyethylene bottles compatible for recycling into post-consumer resin; not pigmenting caps used on natural HDPE bottles; and making label adhesives water soluble.
For the second phase, a new group representing recycling organizations in 32 states will conduct further research and reconsider those recommendations to determine if they are still applicable today.
The group then will complete the list and ask manufacturers to implement those recommendations at a national conference this spring.
``We are very concerned that what we put forward has a rock-solid technical basis,'' Anderson said.
The project turned toward the 32-state consortium and specifically excluded manufacturers from being decision-makers in the second phase to avoid anti-trust concerns, Anderson said. However, the group still wants input from the industry and is making working papers of its progress available.
``We are trying to encourage anyone in industry to be informed, and we're trying to make it an open process,'' Anderson said.
The Washington-based Association of Post-Consumer Plastic Reyclers is working with Rutgers University to test how bottle labels, their ink and adhesives affect the recycling process, said Steve Babinchack, co-chairman of the group's technical committee and president of St. Jude Polymer Corp. in Frackville, Pa. The committee plans to share its research with the redesign project, he said.