WASHINGTON — Production of all virgin resins grew faster than their respective recycling rates from 1990-96, according to an analysis of industry figures released Sept. 26 by the Environmental Defense Fund.
The EDF report, titled ``Something to Hide: The Sorry State of Plastics Recycling,'' is the latest installment of analyses of recycling data from the Washington-based American Plastics Council.
According to EDF, about 2.2 pounds of new PET soda bottles were produced for every additional pound recycled in that period, and growth of virgin flexible packaging was 9.9 times that of the growth of materials recycled, EDF said.
For non-PET bottles, the ratio of virgin to recycled was much better — 1.2-1.
APC spokeswoman Susan Dorn declined to comment on specific figures, saying she did not want to get into a ``tit for tat'' with EDF.
``We've always been in favor of recycling where it is economically and environmentally sustainable and responsible,'' she said.
EDF and APC also traded charges over access to the data, after APC declined to provide a complete copy of the data in its ``1996 National Post-Consumer Plastics Rigid Container Recycling Rate Study'' to EDF senior scientist Richard Denison, who prepared the EDF response. The tone of this year's report was similar to previous EDF efforts.
APC provided the report to EDF in past years, but Dorn said this year APC decided to release it only to APC member companies and the plastics industry.
``We just decided we like to keep the document and distribute it that way,'' she said. ``We feel the people within our industry are better served, can understand the numbers and can interpret them.''
Denison called it a ``further extension of the effort to hide the real data.'' Plastics News provided a copy of the APC report to EDF.
APC's report and EDF's analysis come to very different conclusions about the health of plastics recycling because they focus on different things: APC highlights bottle recycling, while EDF examines all plastic packaging.
The EDF report found 9.5 percent of plastic packaging was recycled in 1996, down from 9.7 percent in 1995. If polystyrene food- service items are included, that fell to 8.5 percent in 1996, EDF said.
Ron Perkins, APC's director of resources management and issues analysis, said he expected to see advancements in the next few years on sorting equipment that will make it much easier to recycle nonbottle packaging.
``We've only really started going after the nonbottles'' based on equipment developed at APC-funded research centers, he said. ``The problem is that there are not markets'' for nonbottle packaging.
The APC report, prepared by consulting firm R.W. Beck Inc., revealed one somewhat surprising fact: PET is no longer king of bottle recycling.
HDPE bottles, both natural and pigmented, supplanted the longtime leader of plastics recycling in 1996, at least in volume of material collected, according to APC figures.
But whether that is a reflection more of growth in HDPE or problems in the PET recycling market in 1996 is harder to determine, with both HDPE and PET recyclers and trade groups saying it is more likely an anomaly reflecting the state of PET markets in 1996.
PET recycling markets have improved this year and are back at typical prices, said Luke Schmidt, president of the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Association for Plastic Container Recovery. NAPCOR said it is trying pilot programs to boost recycling of single-serve 20-ounce bottles, which accounted for some of the decline in recycling rates.
APC released the full copy of its annual recycling survey last month, about three months after announcing some of the results in a news release.
Packaging recycling showed some gains, but the numbers remained small: Low density and linear low density PE nonbottle packaging recycling grew 20 percent, but even with that, just 3.6 percent of the more than 5 billion pounds produced was recycled.
R.W. Beck in 1996 changed the way it calculates recycling rates, counting all plastic that is collected for recycling, instead of what actually is recycled.