The Dec. 2 issue of Plastics News, reports that the “plastic can” was recently reintroduced by Owens-Illinois Inc. (“Container makers have transparent intentions,” Page 1). Those with historical knowledge of plastic packaging and the laws governing container recycling are baffled. More than 15 years ago a company called Petainer considered the hybrid container, but soon rejected it due to unresolved recycling issues. If this new container is so innovative, why haven't the recycling solutions been disclosed?
The first generation of plastic cans threatened to contaminate the PET recycling stream with PVC labels, as did the aluminum top. O-I's latest creation, if released, would contribute to an emerging contamination problem because of its multilayer components, not to mention the aluminum top.
Even the reported ambitious potential of 35 percent recycled content fails to mitigate the impending loss to the recycling industry at large. Did O-I consider consulting the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers before developing such a recycling nightmare?
Aluminum top aside, multilayer containers may be recycled with traditional PET bottles in low percentages. If the percentage of multilayer containers grows, the barrier material will create significant problems for recyclers, jeopardizing the current PET recycling infrastructure.
It is stated that O-I developed technology (SurShot) to limit the amount of barrier material used in layers to decrease their own cost. Unfortunately, they failed to develop the technology that would decrease the cost that society would bear if the plastic can floods the waste stream.
O-I may be able to ignore increased recycling costs in some states, but in California, industry foots a significant portion of the bill. Increased costs to recycle leads to increased processing fees for beverage makers, which are O-I's potential customers.
One way O-I could shirk costs in California would be to use a No. 7 (Other) recycling code since No. 7 recycling rates are significantly lower than PET recycling rates. Since the current law actually penalizes industry as recycling rates increase, O-I could pay the portion of the processing fee for No. 7s, which would save a bundle. The question is whether soda giants are willing to take the public heat for bottling in a nonrecyclable container and gamble on the notion that the law will remain the same.
We encourage Owens-Illinois and all other container makers to consider the recycling issues when developing a new product.
All practical issues aside, what is so innovative about a container that mimics the aluminum can? Plastic soda bottles that fall from vending machines already offer transparency, but they also offer rescrewable caps — and they can be recycled!
Zero Waste Committee,
Northern California Recycling