WASHINGTON — Miller Brewing Co.'s new PET beer bottle seems to have passed some initial testing of its recyclability, but recyclers continue to question the bottle design and the long-term recycling impact of beer moving to plastic.
The tests show the oxygen barrier Miller uses has little impact on the quality of the recycled PET, and Miller's bottle maker, Continental PET Technologies Inc., has agreed to pay a premium for recycled amber bottles for a year to jump-start a market, said a March 5 news release from the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.
Recyclers still have concerns about the recycling impact of the metalized labels and aluminum caps on the bottles, and the cumulative impact of other oxygen barriers from other PET beer bottles, APR Director Robin Cotchan said. Developing an amber market remains a concern, she said.
Miller and Continental PET are working with APR on the testing. APR said Continental PET will continue to study the impact of the amber bottles on the green-PET market and on other markets, such as sheet.
``Not everything is OK,'' Cotchan said. ``We are not in the business of certification. We may get to the point where some recyclers accept the bottle and want the bottle, depending on the how the amber markets develop.''
Miller's tests consisted of beer bottles at 5, 10 and 25 percent of a stream made up of PET soda bottles, said Warwick Hassan, general manager of business development for Florence, Ky.-based Continental PET, a unit of Owens-Illinois Inc.
The tests mainly were designed to measure the impact of the barrier layer on a clear-PET stream, he said. The recycling process aspirates 90 percent of the barrier layer, Cotchan said.
But the cumulative impact of other beer bottles, including their barrier layers, is ``our biggest fear,'' Cotchan said. Other recycling officials have said the introduction of plastic beer bottles could be a boon to recycling because it will increase volume enough to boost markets, particularly in amber.
Continental PET's testing also found that its oxygen barrier did produce ``some slight yellowing'' of the recycled PET, but that ``the yellowing does not affect the value at the levels we are testing,'' Hassan said. Continental PET has not seen any other barrier layers, so it is not sure what the impact would be, he said.
Miller also is looking at changes in the label design and cap, Hassan said. APR members have been told that changes to enhance recyclability are likely, APR said in its statement.
Continental PET will pay a 50 percent premium on bales of amber bottles, over the price of mixed-color PET bales, for at least a year, Hassan said.
``At the end of the year, we'll review it,'' Hassan said. ``The recycling industry is in a state of flux at the moment. It could be that the economics improve and we don't need a subsidy or we won't be the major maker of amber beer bottles.''
Continental PET also said it would put 25 percent post-consumer amber and clear PET into the Miller bottles starting in late May. Hassan said Continental PET will buy amber bottles provided they comply with APR's ``Champions for Change'' testing program.
Miller rival Anheuser-Busch is widely expected to roll out its own trial of plastic beer bottles, possibly this month. The company would not comment.
Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection also sent a letter to Milwaukee-based Miller Feb. 26 telling the beer maker it could not label the bottle with a number 1 under the resin identification code for PET. Instead, Miller would have to label the bottle a 7, because of the barrier layer.
Resa Dimino, spokeswoman for the GrassRoots Recycling Network, which has been critical of Miller, said the effort is ``a little bit too little, too late.'' Miller does not solve the problem of whether amber can be effectively sorted from green or what will happen to the market after Continental PET's yearlong subsidy, she said.