After a one-year hiatus, we're celebrating the return of our recycling report card, a look at the past year in plastics recycling. As usual, we're tough graders — the average is a solid C, and there's only one A student this year.
Grade inflation does not exist at Plastics News.
Grades are based on whether the parties met their goals, whether their efforts were sustainable and whether their accomplishments were substantive or frivolous.
American Plastics Council: C
It's a real mixed bag for one of the industry's leading trade groups on recycling issues. APC continues to oppose bottle bills, which we think are effective.
But the trade group, to its credit, is putting more than $100,000 into a large-scale education effort to boost collection in California (where, not coincidentally, the industry faces great political pressure).
APC also laid off its top recycling official this year, but the organization continues to provide support for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.
APC also deserves credit for continuing to finance an annual report that measures the U.S. plastics recycling rate. But at the same time, APC's effort to put a positive spin on the declining numbers is getting a little silly.
Although APC was conceived to deal with waste and recycling issues, the trade group has taken on a wider mission in the past year, with a goal of becoming a full-service trade association.
As its role expands, we'll be watching to see if its work on recycling-related issues moves to the back burner.
Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers: B
The small trade group deserves kudos for getting more vocal this year, getting the message out that recyclers need more material. And the group recently hinted it may find itself supporting bottle bills.
Coca-Cola Co.: D
Coke now says it will use 10 percent recycled content in one of every four PET bottles. That's certainly more than its main competitors, and the company deserves credit for that.
But contrast Coke's handling of recycling issues with Miller Brewing Co. Miller has been proactive, working with recyclers and promising from the beginning to use recycled content.
Coke, in comparison, has been close-mouthed, and some of its statements have bordered on misleading.
For example, the company initially said it would use 10 percent recycled content — without qualifying that the figure only applied to some of its bottles.
DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co.: Incomplete
Ford is trying to take the lead among automakers on recycling issues.
The company in November developed aggressive recycled-content targets for its parts and material suppliers. Ford's move followed DaimlerChrysler, which also issued a recycling directive last year.
Plastics processors that serve the automakers seem to be taking the project seriously. We've noted a number of significant new applications for recycled content in automobiles, and best of all, they seem to be sustainable and well beyond the "pilot project" stage.
The proof will come in the next few years, as Ford and DaimlerChrysler introduce new models that, if the plan works, will feature a signficant amount of recycled plastics.
To date, recycling of plastics in durable goods has been limited and statistically insignificant.
That shouldn't continue — there's no reason to keep throwing away all of that high-quality engineering resin.
It's tough to grade California. In January, the state's legislature expanded the bottle-deposit bill to include more beverage containers. The expanded law is causing some problems for recyclers, but early reports are that it also is increasing the supply of bottles collected — exactly what it is designed to do.
The state also plans to step up enforcement of its rigid plastic packaging container law, which prods many companies to use recycled content. The law at times is too rigid, but state officials are searching for ways to accommodate industry and reduce packaging waste.
The state became a battleground for plastics recycling this year. A top legislative leaders pushed a bottle bill, and newspapers picked up the charge. But industry fought back with an expensive advertising and lobbying campaign. For voting down a bottle bill, we give the state a grade that barely passes.
Los Angeles City Council and Councilwoman Ruth Galanter: B+
Galanter challenged Miller Brewing Co. to make its new PET bottle recyclable, and also to use recycled content in the design. In February, the council voted unanimously to bill Miller for the costs of recycling the amber, multilayer bottle. Said Galanter: "You deserved it." She further warned, "Coke is our next target."
Taken to the extreme, that sort of action is dangerous and could stifle packaging innovation. But in this case, we consider it the necessary reminder to brewers that as they begin to use PET bottles, they should not create needless headaches for plastics recyclers.
Miller Brewing Co.: A
Miller made some initial missteps when it unveiled its PET bottle, but the company and its bottlemaker, Continental PET Technologies Inc., are back on track.
Continental PET and Miller deserve credit for working closely with the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. We hope that cooperation will set a precedent for other brewers and new users of PET packaging.
Miller rolled out its first PET beer bottle this spring. The package still presents some minor obstacles for recyclers — a switch from amber to clear bottles would generate a lot of goodwill. But the bottle does include recycled content, which we hope also sets a precedent for other brewers looking at PET.
National Association for PET Container Resources: C
The PET trade group has launched a trial in two cities to boost recycling of single-serve containers, endorsed design for recyclability guidelines, and provided important technical assistance to bottlemakers and recyclers.
The group rightly points out that recyclers need more material, but the group remains basically silent on what to do about it, other than suggesting it's local government's problem.
Phoenix Technologies LP: Incomplete
This company produces a Food and Drug Administration-approved, recycled-content PET blend derived from curbside bottles.
Coca-Cola Co. is "reviewing possible commercialization" of that technology, as well as others, possibly to be incorporated into the promised 10 percent recycled-content bottles.
Elm Packaging Co.: Incomplete
After spending more than $85 million on promotions, publicity — oh, and some recycling too — the virgin resin suppliers that owned the National Polystyrene Recycling Co. finally threw in the towel last year.
At least they didn't try to declare victory.
Elm, a Memphis, Tenn.-based thermoformer, bought the much-downsized business. Expectations are pretty low — if Elm is still recycling PS food-service products five years from now, we'll consider making the company valedictorian of that year's class.
Meredith-Springfield Associates Inc.: F
The Ludlow, Mass., extrusion blow molder accidently put the wrong resin code on a batch of 400,000 syrup bottles, according to customer Torbitt and Castleman LLC, which manufactured the store-brand syrup.
Accidents happen. But how can a blow molder not know the difference between PET and PVC?
Daedalus Project Inc.: Incomplete
The Alexandria, Va., company bought the Brantford, Ontario, recycling operation that formerly housed Resource Plastics Inc.
Daedalus plans to use the plant to make composite building panels for use in low-cost housing.