Our annual recycling report card once again takes a critical look at developments in the past year. Although recycling rates have been sluggish, some positive steps bring the grades up to a solid B average.
Nationwide Recyclers: B
The company's new owners, led by former bottling executive Tom Hiles, are sensing a wave of interest in recycled content in the PET beverage industry. Obviously Hiles and his partners are motivated by business opportunities, but the firm deserves credit for its willingness to put money into the sometimes-dicey world of plastics recycling.
Plastic Technologies Inc.: A
The company, which developed the technology Coca-Cola Co. uses to make PET bottles with 25 percent recycled content in Australia, is spearheading research to develop its next-generation recycling technology. PTI and its Phoenix Technologies subsidiary believe the technology will make recycled PET consistently cost-competitive with virgin resin.
EPA and E-waste: B
Marianne Horinko, assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told a Washington electronics industry audience recently that talks on electronics waste need to make progress or the agency will rethink its support of the voluntary efforts. Hopefully, the forceful reminder will serve to jump-start the stalled talks and lead to agreement on how to finance e-waste collection.
Coca-Cola Co: C+
The soft drink industry leader deserves credit for pressing ahead with plans to use recycled PET in soft drink containers. But Coke still isn't offering a viable way to turn around falling recycling rates. The industry's profitable 20-ounce PET bottles are a consumer favorite, and while you can argue over how to divide up responsibility for the waste those bottles create, Coke needs to take serious steps to reverse the dramatic slide in PET recycling rate.
PepsiCo Inc: C-
Pepsi apparently is pressing ahead with its plans to get 10 percent recycled content in its PET bottles by 2005, mirroring that of rival Coke. But the second-largest soft drink maker seems to be lagging its larger cousin in implementation, and the firm also offers no real solution to falling recycling rates.
Resyk Inc.: A
The company earned a spot in R&D Magazine's R&D 100 Awards in September for its work developing a process to recycle mixed plastics and other materials into simple parts like trash-can wheels. The process is being used by only a handful of companies, but it shows promise as another technique for dealing with otherwise hard-to-recycle materials.
California Integrated Waste Management Board: Incomplete
CIWMB is one of the country's few state-level agencies taking a long-term look at waste issues. The board came out with a white paper last year that will focus attention on the disposal costs of plastics and issues that need to be considered as plastic continues to expand. A grade depends on what initiatives emerge, but this merits watching.
European PVC industry: B
It's worth highlighting the vastly different approaches to recycling and sustainability taken by the vinyl industries in Europe and the United States. Europe is investing about 25 million euros ($29.3 million) a year in sustainability projects industrywide and recycles more than 10 times as much post-consumer vinyl waste as the United States. Cynics would argue that the European industry commitment came only after government pressure, but the industry deserves some credit.
State governments and bottle bills: Incomplete
This is a tough one for us, since we've long advocated bottles bills and are heartened that several states, including Massachusetts, Michigan and New York, are taking a serious look at expanding their deposit systems. But it's troublesome to see state governments looking to expand container deposits as a way to close budget gaps. It makes us fear that the money won't wind up helping recycling and other environmental projects.
Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling essentially went into hibernation in late 2002, after it was unable to convince the beverage industry and environmentalists to work together on recycling solutions. The group bent over backwards to provide a balanced forum, including hiring an equal number of industry and environmentally oriented consultants to guide its work. In the end, it didn't meet that very lofty goal, but it produced groundbreaking research on the cost of different recycling systems.
New York: B
The city made a high-profile decision to stop collecting plastic in its curbside program in July, because the cash-strapped city no longer could afford to pay the $60 per ton it was charged to get rid of its metal and plastic. But now, New York will start collecting plastics again this summer, after a local firm offered to pay the city $5.10 per ton for the material. Markets exist for recycled plastic, and it's a positive sign that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was willing to reconsider his decision.