Recyclers will have to buckle down and do more sorting to keep up with the evolving PET container market, according to those speaking at a recent round- table discussion. "It's like a train coming down the tracks, and we have to be ready for it," said Carl Hursh, chief of recycling and markets for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania sponsored a June 6 discussion at the Harrisburg, Pa., Area Community College to address new challenges in recycling PET containers. The discussion brought together members of the public and private sector to bridge the gap between the two.
"We got some idea where the PET industry is coming from," said Joanne Shafer, recycling coordinator for the Centre County Solid Waste Authority. "We came away knowing that the PET folks knew what some of our concerns were and vice versa."
About 60 Pennsylvania recycling coordinators, collectors and processors attended the meeting, said Carol Mas, chairwoman of the PROP Markets Committee and one of the panelists. The other panelists were Shafer; Stephen Babinchak, president of St. Jude Polymer, a Frackville, Pa., PET recycler; Gerald Claes, director of environmental programs for Graham Packaging Co., a York, Pa., blow molder and recycler; and Mike Schedler, from the National Association for PET Container Resources.
"We need to go into this in a partnership with industry," Hursh said. "It was enlightening, but we also, I think, felt we're all in this together."
The panelists aired concerns about the increasing variety of colors, shapes and sizes of PET containers.
"The picture that was painted for us was that the market will be there for PET," Hursh said.
But the market will require additional steps to sort the material properly, he said.
"The burden, if you will, with dealing with all the different colored containers is really going to fall squarely on the shoulders of the [material recovery facilities]," Shafer said. "I'm really making sort of a bit of a leap here, but what I got from the session is that if the material is going to be sorted to a point that's good for the market, that the potential revenue could outweigh the additional cost."
The panelists also discussed which PET containers should be collected at drop-off centers and in curbside recycling programs.
"I think we had hoped, as a committee, to come out of that session with a definitive answer to that question," Shafer said. "I don't think that we did. I don't think that the fault lies with anyone."
But the group did come up with guidelines as to what to collect, Mas said. All PET bottles and jars, defined as containers without handles that have smaller necks than bottoms, are recyclable no matter what the color.
"So, whether it's yellow, pink, blue, purple or whatever color, we should collect it," she said.
County and municipal coordinators will have to step up public education programs to keep up with the changing industry, Shafer said.
The industry acknowledged problems with baling single-serve PET bottles and is addressing the issue, but the upward trend of producing smaller containers will continue.