David Cornell says not to sell reclaimers short on adaptability (Dec. 10, Page 6 Mailbag), and certainly truer words were never said.
Reclaimers upgrade plastic bottle bales assembled from curbside programs to meet end-market specifications. There would be no plastics recycling without them.
On the other hand, something is puzzling in Mr. Cornell's statement that “all of the barrier solutions that have been fully tested in the APR Champions for Change program have shown at high concentrations tolerable impacts on processes and products.”
For one thing, APR director Robin Cotchan wrote in Plastics News (Jan. 29, 2001, Page 6 Mailbag “APR clarifies recycling program”): “The outcome is not being recognized; the participation is being recognized.”
The reason reclaimers stop short of reaching conclusions is to avoid running afoul of anti-trust laws. At that junction where recyclability is evaluated but not determined, there lies the interface between the Association of Post-consumer Plastics Recycling (APR), representing reclaimers, and the Plastic Redesign Project, representing local recycling programs.
Not that the project intends to dictate to the marketplace; rather, its members firmly believe all stakeholders benefit from being informed about how competing bottle designs affect recyclers differently and which have the least downstream impacts.
Also surprising is Mr. Cornell's statement that the impacts were “tolerable” even at “high concentrations.” PRP just completed a technical analysis of the test results on the first-generation barrier and amber bottles. Though its conclusions are also that there will be few impacts, our technical review shows there are likely to be significant adverse back-end effects with the new bottles' roll-out.
That is not to say that recyclers intend to hold up a red flag to barrier enhancement in the longer term. It is just that the vendor's own tests show that levels of barrier bottles greater than 16 percent in the clear PET stream will be too yellowed for acceptance by bottle-to-bottle markets. That could lower bale prices an average of 13-24 percent. Inasmuch as our analyses indicated that the potential market for barrier bottles is 63 percent of the clear PET stream, it seems likely that the 16 percent threshold will be exceeded, albeit that could take five to eight years. The details for developing a second-generation barrier bottle that overcomes recyclers' concerns are found in our report, “PET Barriers, Tints and Recycling.”
Nonetheless, with a nod to Mr. Cornell's admirable optimism, we would want to be the first to qualify our conclusions concerning first-generation designs. We feel that upcoming developments may provide more hope of a win-win outcome for the plastics industry, packagers and recyclers.
Both APR and PRP will play an important role in providing stakeholders with important technical and reasoned information about the economic recyclability of new bottle designs. But, without those critical conclusions, decision-makers will not have sufficient information to act.
Anderson heads both the multistate Plastic Redesign Project and his own firm, Recycleworlds Consulting Corp., in Madison, Wis.