Recyclers are worried that California's expanded bottle bill will hurt the quality of scrap plastic in the market. "Any time you allow more bottles into the stream, you're asking for trouble," said Phil Cavin, national procurement director for Mohawk Industries Inc. in Calhoun, Ga. "I personally think it's insane to create a bottle bill for a bottle that has no market. That's the insanity of it all. They put a redemption value on a material that, as far as I know, is worthless."
A state official said there may be a few quality issues at first, but the questions should be resolved quickly.
In October, Gov. Gray Davis, a democrat, signed Senate Bill 332 into law, expanding the state's bottle bill to include all plastic beverage containers starting Jan. 1. Currently, only PET beverage containers are included in the law.
"[The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers] is very concerned about contamination," said Robin Cotchan, director of the Arlington, Va.-based trade organization.
Many U.S. recyclers buy scrap PET from California, which collects about 100 million pounds annually. But recyclers worry that because of the expanded bottle collection program, other plastics, such as PVC, may contaminate loads of PET, Cavin said.
Mohawk Industries, which claims to be the largest PET recycler in the world, traditionally buys a tremendous amount scrap material from California. But the company already has found other sources of material for the first three months of 2000, he said.
"You have to keep in mind we're doing a lot of assuming here," he said. "I figure it'll take at least 90 days to find out what the hell's going on."
California recyclers are not equipped to separate the other plastics from the PET and may not bother to improve the quality if overseas buyers, with access to cheaper labor, continue to buy material, Cavin said. APR representatives discussed the issue earlier this month with the California Department of Conservation, which administers the program.
"We left with a pretty bad taste in our mouth that there probably wasn't a whole lot going to be done about it," he said.
Recyclers can separate the materials, but it will come at a cost, said Steven A. Young, president of Allan Co., a Baldwin Park, Calif., licensed recycler and processor. The state will have to help pay for additional recovery costs.
"Whatever it takes. We're going to get the job done as far as preparing it for market," Young said. "Unfortunately, there's not a market for some of that stuff."
The state recognizes there could be a quality issue, but it's too early to know if it will be a problem, said Mark Oldfield, a Department of Conservation spokesman.
"It should be a story that resolves itself over the coming months," Oldfield said.
Another group, the Plastic Recycling Corp. of California, also will actively ensure the quality of the material, said Executive Director Patty Moore. The organization represents soft drink companies and PET bottle makers that sell their products in the state.
Under California's old deposit system, PRCC handled collection of PET beverage bottles.
"PRCC is confident there won't be too much mixing of material," she said. "We're really going to be pushing hard on the issue of quality. That's our main consideration for the first quarter of 2000."
Under the revised bill, PRCC will help pay for California's program through processing fees, Moore said. The better the quality of the material, the more value is has and the less the industry has to pay the state, she said.