California regulators seem headed toward a more cooperative approach to raising the plastic container recycling rate, rather than a more aggressive enforcement program that could have focused on extensive fines for companies.
The California Integrated Waste Management Board is likely to consider such a plan March 25, two months after determining that plastics failed to meet the state's 25 percent recycling goal in 1996.
A board committee adopted a plan March 18 that focuses on getting significant cooperation from industry to raise the recycling rate. The group decided that it lacks the ability to conduct a sweeping investigation of which companies are not complying, said Vice Chairman Robert Frazee.
``I just don't think the board has the resources to go out and identify the small manufacturer and bring them into compliance,'' he said. ``It's beyond the resources of the board to pursue that in a fair and equitable manner.''
A staff report said the board has not identified all of the manufacturers it must contact — as many as 2,000. Plus, it takes months simply to mail and receive back self-certification forms from those companies. By that time, staff would be involved in calculating the 1997 recycling rate.
Since the recycling rate fell below 25 percent, California law requires companies to source reduce, use refillable containers and use 25 percent post-consumer material. Food, beverage and cosmetic products are exempt, however.
``The board may wish to decide, in light of its current and future resources, whether an enforcement or voluntary approach will result in more recycling, reuse and source reduction,'' the report said.
A voluntary approach can continue to be used after recycling rates rise and can create incentives for firms that currently use recycled content or source reduce, the report said.
Rick Best, policy director with the environmental group Californians Against Waste, said March 19 by telephone from Sacramento, Calif., that what the board will do is not clear.
``It is far too premature for the board to determine that they don't have the resources, if they haven't even determined how many companies are involved,'' he said. ``They said they are going to send out this certification form and it wasn't clear what steps will be taken once those forms are sent out. We want to make sure the board is committed to reviewing those certifications.''
The state recycling rate for all plastic containers was 23.2 percent in 1996. Plastics industry officials said the rate was too low because board figures incorrectly said high density polyethylene had dropped from 1995, while some environmental groups questioned the 1995 figures.
Frazee said the waste board plans to conduct another survey in 1998 to get up-to-date recycling figures, similar to the 1995 effort, which was paid for by the Washington-based American Plastics Council .
The waste board will spend about $500,000 on the 1998 survey, he said.