The American Plastics Council has ended its support of the Garten Services Inc. plastic recycling facility in Oregon, as the groups had planned, and turned over ownership of the equipment.
While Garten officials said APC's financial and technical help were valuable, Executive Director Emil Graziani noted in an interview that its plastics recycling operation is losing money. What is needed to boost markets is mandated recycled-content laws similar to the paper industry, he said — a point APC disagrees with.
In what was one of APC's high-profile recycling test centers, the Washington trade group spent at least $1.4 million since 1994 developing high-speed sorting equipment and helping to fill gaps in Oregon's recycling infrastructure.
The Garten facility started in 1994, after the state passed laws saying it wanted plastics recycling to hit 25 percent, said Ron Perkins, director of recycling operations at APC.
``When that facility was constructed, there was essentially zero sorting capacity in Oregon,'' Perkins said. ``It was filling a void.''
``They put a gun to our head. Here was a state that said we've got to reach 25 percent but they had no sorting infrastructure,'' he said.
``The impact they had — APC giving money to Garten ... really did lead to a lot of the curbside programs getting going,'' said Peter Spendelow, waste reduction specialist at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. ``There were some before then, but not much.''
Garten was the first facility to use a single high-speed sorting line on a much smaller scale than other plants using high-speed equipment, Perkins said. The Garten system was also built to separate all resins and colors.
Garten developed equipment to separate bottles from nonbottles. And it developed a ``gap filler'' that was able to place bottles in gaps in the stream, increasing capacity from 1,200 pounds an hour to up to 1,800, Perkins said.
Garten uses infrared, X-ray and vision sensors from Magnetic Separation Systems of Nashville, Tenn., to identify bottles and air jets to push them into containers with similar bottles.
APC originally agreed to support Garten for 1995, 1996 and 1997, but extended it to October to help with the transition, Graziani said.
Besides buying equipment, APC also subsidized up to 5 cents a pound to buy plastic through 1997, Garten officials said.
Currently the center sells only high density polyethylene, PET and infrequently PVC, and is stockpiling other plastics that don't have markets, he said. The plant used to sell those bottles to Asian recyclers, but that dried up in the financial turmoil there, Graziani said.
``We are not profitable at this period,'' he said. ``We have no plans to shut it down. We made a commitment to our board of directors to keep it open for a year... [but] if we become convinced that prices are going to continue like this ad infinitum, there is no reason to run an operation that is losing money.''