In her Jan. 26 letter to the editor, “U.S. recycling stream flowing away to Asia,” Robin Cotchan, executive director of the Association of Post-Consumer Plastics Recyclers, spoke to the supply crisis facing the plastics recycling industry.
In her focus on Asian exports, Ms. Cotchan correctly identifies one of two crucial supply issues facing the PET reclaiming industry. The other issue is the lack of an adequate collection infrastructure. While the domestic PET container business has doubled in size over the past decade, from 2 billion to 4 billion pounds per year, the recycling rate has dropped from 40 percent to 20 percent.
As a result, roughly 3.2 billion pounds of recyclable bottles are going into landfills each year while the domestic PET reclaiming industry is starved for feedstocks.
The only proven way to bridge the gap between supply and demand is to implement new and expanded domestic bottle bills that rely on the financial incentive of a refund of 5 or 10 cents to encourage the recycling of beverage containers.
State-mandated deposit-refund systems, operated by the beverage industry, have a 30-year record of success.
The track record of bottle bills in recovering beverage bottles and cans is unparalleled. The 10 existing bottle-bill states achieve an average recovery rate of 70 percent for containers covered under the deposit system, while the recovery rate in most nondeposit states is in the single digits. But bottle bills are met with powerful opposition by beverage companies that prefer to have recycling subsidized by taxpayers.
Coke and Pepsi recently committed publicly to using 10 percent recycled content in their plastic bottles. Unless these twin issues, lack of supply and Asian competition, are addressed, those goals may be unattainable in the long-term.
Container Recycling Institute