Single-serve bottles and a variety of new resins, colors and labels have some PET recyclers concerned. "How are we going to collect all this stuff?" said Stephen Babinchak, president of St. Jude Polymer, a PET recycler in Frackville, Pa.
Babinchak worries that if alternative collection efforts are not stepped up, single-serve bottles will continue to deflate the PET recycling rate.
"A kid goes into a quick store, grabs a bottle, he zips down the street: Before you know it, it's in somebody's lawn," he said. "That's why the recycling rates look like they're lower."
Recyclers, bottle makers, municipal officials and collectors will gather in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 6 to discuss their concerns about PET recycling.
Gerald Claes, director of environmental programs for blow molder and recycler Graham Packaging Co. in York, Pa., will assure participants of the recyclability of some of the new containers.
Claes said Graham's newest coated-PET grape juice bottle has generated some worry among recyclers and collectors, but he is confident that after the discussion, participants will go away with some assurance that this product — already available in limited markets — is recyclable.
"Initially there were some concerns, but the work that we've done gives us a high level of comfort that the coated bottle will be assimilated into the PET recycling stream," Claes said.
He said Graham worked with the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers' Champions for Change program for two years on recyclability issues
Concrete solutions may not be reached during the annual markets roundtable discussion, but at least players on both sides of the plastics business will come away with an understanding of each other's concerns.
That is the hope of Carol Mas — director of Bloomsburg, Pa.'s citywide recycling program and markets chair of the nonprofit group, Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania, or PROP.
"We present our problems as processors and collectors; the end users present the problems they have," Mas said. "We're there to understand both sides of the story."
This event, to take place at Harrisburg Area Community College, is the ninth such discussion sponsored by PROP.
"Our main concerns are the different kinds of plastics — especially PET beer bottles, heat-resistant bottles, adhesive labels and shrink wraps [on bottles]," she said.
Mas said municipal officials will be asking "what the markets are going to be for PET collectors and processors, and what we can or cannot do."
Pennsylvania has participated in mandated recycling since the state enacted the Municipal Waste Planning Recycling and Waste Reduction Act in 1988, said Carl Hursch, chief of recycling and markets for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Hursch and Mas do not see a bottle bill as a next step in Pennsylvania's recycling future.
Hursch, however, said the complexity of new containers to come may at least revive discussion on the topic.
"The history of deposit legislation in the state has reflected a reluctance to adopt that type of legislation, but I can't predict what's going to happen in the future," Hursch said in a telephone interview from his Harrisburg office. "The nature of the makeup of containers has changed significantly, and there might be a time when deposits might be an effective way of capturing clean feedstocks for recycling."
Mas, however, continues to rely on the open discussions that have been taking place between the sides of the plastic container industry to reach amicable solutions.
It has been through these discussions, she said, that producers and recyclers reached an agreement to eliminate recycling nuisances, such as metal caps and base cups that used to be incorporated onto 2-liter PET bottles.
"We've been rather successful in the past," she said. "We've been able to nip some things in the bud before they became a really big problem."