The shuttering of a Riverside, Calif., PET recycling plant is at least partly due to recyclers' increasing problems under California's expanded bottle bill, company officials said. Chantilly, Va.-based Envipco halted operations Feb. 16 at its Riverside plant, said Jerry Weis, senior vice president of polymer processing. The plant, which produces clean flake, will stay closed for at least 60 days. Envipco will lay off 45 employees.
The expansion of the state's bottle bill, which took effect Jan. 1, to include all plastic beverage containers, has caused problems in the West Coast scrap market. The main problem is that the state now collects some non-PET bottles, which makes the recycling stream less valuable.
The Riverside plant's primary supplier is Plastic Recycling Corp. of California, which represents soft drink companies and PET bottle makers.
Since the expanded bottle-deposit program took hold, "We've seen the contamination levels of materials for the last couple of months increase rapidly," Weis said.
PRCC was the dominant PET supplier in California before the new bill took effect, but the organization has had to cut the amount of material it buys, he said.
Because it no longer handles collection of the material, PRCC must compete with other buyers and pay market value for the material.
Sonoma, Calif.-based PRCC has asked Envipco to relieve it of its contractual obligation to provide baled PET bottles for the next six years, Weis said.
"The attempted termination of the contract by PRCC has hurt, so we're just going to sit it out and see where the market condition goes and continue to negotiate with PRCC," Weis said.
Patty Moore, PRCC executive director, said material quality should not be an issue. Regulations require materials-recovery facilities to separate PET containers before shipping them to recyclers. If they fail to do so, the state can refuse to pay them the redemption value of the material, she said.
The California Department of Conservation, which runs the redemption program, has seen very few non-PET bottles show up in the stream, spokesman Mark Oldfield said.
"Based on our reports in the field, a contamination issue is somewhat moot at this point," Oldfield said.
He said Envipco's plant closing was mostly market-driven.
Weis, however, said Envipco and the Arlington, Va.-based Association of Post-Consumer Plastic Recyclers think California material collectors are ill-equipped to sort plastics by resin type.
"The DOC has a reasonable amount of confidence in the recyclers and sorting," Weis said. "We don't agree with that."
Meanwhile, Envipco is pondering whether to upgrade the idle facility, which has annual capacity of 36 million pounds, Weis said.
The company may install new equipment to prepare the plant for reopening when the market improves, he said.
"If we do start up, we're going to make some changes that will allow us to run this California material more effectively," he said.