WASHINGTON — In a move that aims to boost purchasing of recycled-content products, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new guidelines for federal purchasing Nov. 13 that include many plastic items.
Nine of the 12 items are plastic or contain plastic blends, including envelopes, fencing, lawn and garden edging, pallets, parking stops, shower and restroom dividers, traffic drums and road-work markers.
The new items were announced during a news conference in Washington touting America Recycles Day, the first nationwide effort to get consumers, businesses and government to buy more recycled-content products.
So far, federal efforts to implement a 1993 executive order encouraging agencies to purchase recycled-content products have focused on paper, with little impact on the plastic market, observers said.
``It's 1997 and we haven't gone a whole long way in that [initiative], other than paper products,'' said Michael Schedler, technical director for the National Association for Plastic Container Recovery, a Charlotte, N.C., trade group that promotes PET recycling. ``It's literally taken four years for this executive order to filter its way through the system.''
Earlier EPA rules directed federal purchasing agents to try to buy 24 recycled-content products, including 13 with plastic content.
Little hard data exists on recycled-plastic purchases, but Schedler estimates that all levels of government bought about 2 million pounds of recycled PET products in 1996, less than one-half percent of all PET bottles recycled.
That is projected to grow in 1997 to 5 million pounds, about 1 percent of all PET bottles recycled, and in 1998 to 20 million pounds — about 2 percent, he said.
Schedler said those projections are personal estimates, not official figures from NAPCOR. He offered the figures during a panel discussion Nov. 6 at the ARC '97 recycling conference in Chicago.
The federal government could make significant inroads, he said. If 50 percent of military housing used recycled PET carpeting — designated as a purchase item by EPA in 1995 — that would use 230 million pounds of PET, Schedler said. NAPCOR also is working on another government order that would use 60 million pounds of recycled PET, he said.
The U.S. Postal Service has been very active in purchasing recycled-content products, Schedler said, and is testing 500 shirts that are half cotton and half recycled-PET fiber. If the test works, the Postal Service is talking about switching its entire polyester uniform contract to recycled, he said. That would mean five shirts a year for 484,000 letter carriers.
Oregon also has passed the first PET-specific, recycled-content purchasing law, which tells agencies to show preference for recycled PET when buying PET products, said Luke Schmidt, NAPCOR president.