ARLINGTON, VA — The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers is hinting that it may support bottle bills. In the close-knit world of plastics trade associations, that's a potentially bold statement. APR represents 90 percent of North America's post-consumer plastic recyclers, but the group has close financial ties to some significant bottle-bill opponents, like the soft drink industry and the American Plastics Council.
APR members say they generally like bottle bills, because having bottle deposits/redemption gets them better-quality material than curbside collection. But they tread very carefully on the politically sensitive issue. APR put out a neutral-sounding statement April 26 saying that it "neither supports nor condemns the judgment of any state to have or not have bottle redemption or deposit legislation."
But Robin Cotchan, APR director, said the statement "could open the door to being more definitive" about legislation.
"There are a lot of people in the [recycling] industry who see the value of bottle bills but don't want to step on some toes, clientwise, that would hurt them," said Cotchan.
APR's statement "is saying it would be nice to have more bottle bills because the quality is good," she said.
APR members buy bottle-bill material from soft drink companies and do not want to anger them, she said. In addition, the American Plastics Council, whose members are suppliers of virgin resin, pays Cotchan's salary and provides her space in APC's Arlington, office, Cotchan said.
APR said it is looking for ways to dramatically increase the volume of plastic that is recycled and to protect the quality of the recycling stream.
"It sure does sound like we like [bottle bills], because right now they are the things that get us the best-quality material," Cotchan said.
"We'd like to think there are other out-of-the-box ways to get more material, but no one has come up with anything," she said. "We haven't heard any real great ideas. We are not even sure bottle bills are the best system, but they sure give us the best material."
The National Association for PET Container Resources, which represents PET bottle makers, did not have any immediate reaction to APR's statement. But NAPCOR President Luke Schmidt reiterated that local governments need to improve curbside collection.
"What really needs to happen in our view is a renewed effort on the part of communities to build upon the existing curbside recycling infrastructure, which is quite substantial," Schmidt said.
Curbside and drop-off programs can collect different types of bottles than bottle bills, he said. Bottle bills also put a "disproportionate" share of the cost on companies, and they amount to a tax on consumers who cannot redeem bottles easily, he said.
APC President Ron Yocum said his group's support of APR does not depend on its bottle-bill positions.
"We have throughout the years helped APR — it is in our best interest," Yocum said. "We are for recycling. On the other hand, we don't sit on their board, and we don't try to tell them what they should or shouldn't do.
"I think we can agree to disagree," Yocum said. "If they came out for it, we'd still remain adamantly against it."
APC officials said high density polyethylene recycling has done very well, and most of those bottles are collected through curbside programs. And APC said bottle bills put a burden on grocers and retailers.
APR also has raised concerns, including that new types of containers in bottle bills could hurt the quality of material collected. And the group said that boosting collection requires more cooperation from many parties — the food and packaging industries, environmentalists, recyclers and governments.