Plastics recycling always has seen tension between packaging companies enamored of new technologies that improve bottle performance, and recyclers who fret that the new technologies make it harder to turn the bottles into quality recycled resin and keep them out of landfills.
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers plans to step into that mix with a voluntary program that will give qualifying companies a letter saying that a new container won't hurt recycling.
The program is an outgrowth of APR's Champions for Change program, which reviews packages for recycling issues without drawing any conclusions.
Some companies, however, incorrectly have claimed that the Champions program amounted to certification from APR, and the group has had to correct those statements, said David Cornell, APR's technical director and an industry consultant in Kingsport, Tenn. That makes APR believe there is a market for an effort like this, he said.
APR is modeling the program on the Food and Drug Administration's letter of no objection for food-packaging materials, which tells companies that the agency does not see any harm from the new material.
The new program, in which APR will issue what it calls a confirmation letter, is not a formal certification that guarantees that a package is recyclable, but rather an indication that APR does not see any problems, based on the data submitted by the companies, said Cornell. The review will be more detailed than the Champions program.
``This is a data-driven decision,'' he said. `` As the Food and Drug Administration wants to see data, so do we.''
If a container passes the review, the company will receive a letter from APR with wording very similar to the FDA's letter. It will read in part: ``Based on our review of these data, we conclude that, at the levels of presence you have indicated and with the results described in your submission, your material would not have a significant negative impact in today's recycle stream.''
APR unveiled the program at a forum it held for packaging professionals Jan. 25 in Miami as part of the NovaPack Americas 2004 conference. APR said it does not oppose package innovation, since new plastic containers ultimately grow the size of the market.
The Arlington, Va.-based trade association still is developing specific criteria, and hopes to have a draft ready by June, Cornell said. But the group has the outlines of how the program will work.
Four people appointed by APR will review technical data. For a product to be approved, three of the four must agree that each of the broad criteria has been met: that the appropriate information was provided, that the information was sufficient and that the information was convincing.
More specifically, Cornell said the review will look at things such as how barrier layers affect the color of recycled resin, the effect of any package innovation on grinding efficiency and how to handle shrink labels, label adhesives and new variant polymers. APR also wants to see market projections.
APR's Executive Committee will make the final decision. APR does not plan to charge for the review.
The letter does not expire, but APR could rescind it if the data is found to be faulty or the company claims more than is warranted.
The group also is working on a logo that companies can attach to containers.
Beyond the logo, the APR program could have other effects in the court of public opinion.
Having an APR confirmation letter could be a helpful ``seal of approval'' for consumer packaging companies, or it could help companies answer questions from state governments that are concerned about recycling, said Mike Schedler, vice president of technology for the National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C.
Cornell said APR will not disclose publicly if a package does not pass the review. But he told the forum that APR will continue to feel ``fully entitled'' to notify the media and recycling officials if it feels a package that has been introduced to the market could harm recycling.
``That's the teeth,'' he said.