Two groups representing PET bottle producers and resin suppliers warned that unless new containers meet strict recycling guidelines, companies could pay a heavy legislative price.
Officials with the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Association for PET Container Resources and with Plastic Recycling Corp. of California said container manufacturers and beverage bottlers need greater recycling awareness before putting new packages on the market.
Representatives of both groups spoke Jan. 29 on a panel at Nova-Pack Americas 2002 on Amelia Island.
Another association, the Arlington, Va.-based Association of Post-Consumer Plastic Recyclers, publishes recycling guidelines for the design of new rigid packaging. Both speakers pointed to that list for direction, which stirred debate among some in the audience of about 250 people.
``When it comes to recycling, what we don't need here is a failure to communicate,'' said Michael Schedler, vice president of technology with Charlotte, N.C.-based NAPCOR. ``It's incumbent for us to understand the ... implications that products might have in the marketplace and how they might affect our business.''
California, creating a tone for the rest of the nation, has set a standard of 25 percent recycling content for many plastic containers, said Patricia Moore, executive director of Sonoma, Calif.-based PRC. The state requires some companies to pay a processing fee if their bottles do not meet certain recycling goals.
Yet the PET recycling rate in California is dropping and collection has stagnated, Moore said. That has alerted lawmakers, who might push for stricter recycling levies against companies this year or next, she said.
Trend toward variety
That action bumps against a trend toward more varieties of PET bottles, another issue at the Nova-Pack conference. While new designs are important, the industry must monitor itself for the ability to recycle, she said.
``You can't have your cake and eat it, too,'' Moore warned. ``There has to be a simple solution [to design a new product] and get the recycling rates up, too. Otherwise, processing fees will make it prohibitively expensive to sell in California.''
Moore cited problems that make PET more difficult to recycle, including use of opaque colors, bleeding and aluminum labels, multilayer bottles and certain seals and handles.
The APR program has built awareness of recycling among major beverage makers, said Robin Cotchan, APR executive director. Most large-sized companies now consult with APR before designing new products, she said.
Some problems remain, such as the use of PVC labels on PET bottles, Cotchan said. But generally, the larger issue is getting enough PET in the recycling stream through collection, she said.
At the conference, one company executive, who did not want his name used, wondered how packaging designers could follow APR's recyclability guidelines while coming up with products that consumers will choose.
Several companies have received letters from APR after a product has entered the market, said the executive with a PET recycling company owned by a bottle producer. Those products, while viable, did not meet APR's recycling standards, he said.
``It's an unfortunate dilemma,'' he said. ``The pressure to increase sales and the pressure to increase reuse do not exactly coincide.''
But recycling cannot be forgotten, even in design, Moore said.
``You have two choices,'' retorted Moore, who also owns Moore Recycling Associates Inc. in Sonoma. ``You can do it voluntarily, or you can ignore it and face the legislative and environmental communities.''
NAPCOR expects the PET bottle market to grow 8-10 percent in 2002, Schedler said. But that growth is not the same for recycled PET, he said.
``The use of [recycled] PET is definitely soft this quarter,'' Schedler said. ``By the middle of the second quarter, we think it will pick up. But supply constraints are the real issue up and down the line.''