Plastics packagers have a persistent recycling problem. But so far industry has been reluctant to embrace the best solution: deposit programs. Recycling rates continue to stagnate or, worse, backslide. Oregon reported last week that its plastics recycling rate may dip below 25 percent in the near future, possibly as early as 2002.
If that happens, industry had better prepare for a legal battle — or some significant changes. If the rate drops below 25 percent, Oregon will require manufacturers to switch to materials that meet the 25 percent goal — most likely PET — or start using 25 percent recycled content.
Neither option is very attractive. No state should be in the business of specifying resin types. And while we encourage companies to use recycled content, we know mandating it would be a nightmare.
Some in the industry continue to push curbside recycling as the solution. But plastics packaging is growing too fast for voluntary efforts to keep up. And if beer starts to move into plastic bottles, the recycling rate really could plummet.
The choices are clear: Either expand enormously successful bottle-deposit programs, or prepare for an expensive, embarrassing legal challenge to Oregon's law.
Already there's a sign that deposit programs are picking up steam. As staff reporter Steve Toloken revealed last week, a group of environmentalists, a liberal foundation and a carpet manufacturer are in serious discussions about forming a well-funded national alliance to promote bottle-bill legislation.
The plastics industry would be well-served to participate in that effort. That way industry can steer the debate toward a model law that would bring the most benefit and the least disruption.
Best of all, expanded deposit programs would put the recycling debate to rest for a long time, if not permanently.