Waste Management Inc. has decided to open a second all-bottles plastic recycling facility, a potentially significant investment on the part of the waste-hauling giant that could boost sagging recycling rates.
Houston-based WM's Recycle America Alliance subsidiary plans to open a plant in Chicago in early 2004 that will handle 100 million pounds of plastic a year, duplicating a plant in North Carolina that started operating early last year.
The investment has implications for curbside recycling programs. The American Plastics Council and other industry groups advocate that cities switch to an all-bottles collection program as a way to squeeze more PET and high density polyethylene from existing recycling programs.
But some communities have been reluctant because switching to an all-bottles program could mean additional sorting costs, contamination from PVC and poor markets for the other plastics. All-bottles programs tell people to recycle all their plastic bottles, rather than only PET and HDPE. APC argues that all-bottles programs generate on average 12 percent more PET and HDPE.
The new operation in Chicago will make it easier for communities to switch to all-bottles collection, said Steve Edelson, director of nonfiber marketing for Recycle America.
``Giving municipalities a comfort level that there is an outlet could ease their decision to go to all-bottles,'' said Edelson. He said he anticipates more communities switching to all-bottles, but said that RAA does not specifically advocate that because it is a decision that must be made by the local community.
``If somebody perceives they'd get more [PET and HDPE] and follows the recommendations of the APC program, we'd have a good marriage with that kind of generator,'' Edelson said.
The Chicago facility will take material from as far as North Dakota and Colorado, and the two plants together will be able to handle material from 60 percent of the United States, Edelson said.
The capacity of the two plants - 200 million pounds - is a large fraction of the 1.6 billion pounds of plastic bottles collected for recycling in 2001, the last year for which statistics are available. That 1.6 billion figure includes containers collected in bottle-deposit programs, too, so the plants potentially could handle a much larger portion of what currently comes from curbside systems.
Edelson declined to say how much RAA is investing in Chicago. The company is installing the same equipment that it has at the North Carolina plant, which has worked well there, he said.
Currently RAA runs the North Carolina plant in Youngsville, in a site it bought from former plastics recycler P&R Environmental Industries Inc. But it plans to open a Raleigh, N.C., site with new equipment later this year, and then ship the Youngsville equipment to Chicago.
Both facilities are near or onsite with WM facilities that process other types of materials for recycling. The company sees benefits in all-bottles systems and integrated recycling plants because they reduce collection costs, Edelson said.
He said that the all-bottles plants have been made possible by technological improvements that let the company produce a clean enough PET flake that it ultimately can be used in new PET bottles.
Some recycling industry officials have questioned whether switching to all-bottles programs could hurt the economics of collection because they result in more plastics, like polypropylene and PVC, that are harder to market and present contamination possibilities.
But Edelson said those have not been problems. In particular, he said the company has not had problems with PVC contamination because its optical sorting systems at the plants are able to reduce PVC to ``low to nonexistent'' levels in the larger PET bottle stream.