Rebuffed in their initial attempt to change rigid plastic container recycling rules in Oregon, 11 business associations have turned to the state Legislature to enact those changes.
However, the business-backed bill not only faces competition from three other measures, but also may have momentum working against it, some officials said.
Earlier this year, Oregon officials reported that the state's rigid plastic recycling rate dropped below the mandated 25 percent for 2004 and 2005. Though not calculated until the end of this year, the officials believe 2006's numbers will not hit the mandate.
Faced with penalties if that happens, members of a consortium of business associations have spent the past two months working to change the rules. In February, the businesses petitioned the state Department of Environmental Quality to change the definition of recycled to include any material intended for recycling, even if it ends up not being recycled. The DEQ unanimously rejected the request.
``It is premature to go through a rule-making process when we are expecting a number of things to happen in this legislative session,'' said Peter Spendelow, a solid-waste specialist with DEQ, in explaining the department's decision to reject the petition.
He said DEQ also rejected the petition because the state attorney general felt Oregon could not demonstrate that using a corporate average to calculate recycled content would be as effective as the current approach. Spendelow also said the courts would not support changing the definition to the business associations' suggestion.
The group since has shifted its strategy by backing a bill introduced Feb. 26 by state Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, that suggests the same changes as the petition.
The three other bills propose a variety of revisions, including modifying the existing bottle-deposit law to include water bottles and fruit-juice containers. Some of the plans also seek to double deposits from 5 cents to 10 cents and to create a redemption-center infrastructure in an effort to boost recycling. Other consumable liquids, such as sports drinks, teas and wines, could be added.
``I have never seen a more positive climate for doing something to modernize our bottle bill,'' said Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, sponsor of one of the three bills and daughter of the Oregon lawmaker who was instrumental in getting the original bill passed in 1971.
With both Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, testifying in favor of bottle-bill changes, ``there is a decent chance something will happen,'' said Spendelow. ``There is very, very strong sentiment for change that hasn't been there in the past.''
The Oregon Legislature plans to create a work group within its Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee to produce one bottle bill from the three that have been introduced.
The state isn't the only one looking at bottle bills anew. Bottle bills also have been introduced in Illinois, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina. Both Connecticut and New York are looking to expand their bottle bills beyond soft drink containers.
Data compiled by the Washington-based Container Recycling Institute shows the number of plastic water bottles sold in 2005 - 29 billion - exceeded the number of soft drink bottles sold and the recycling rate for water bottles was less than 15 percent, compared with 33 percent for soft drink bottles.
In Oregon, the number of water bottles sold in 2005 was 125 million, compared with 30 million in 1998, according to DEQ. The 2005 recycling rate for water and juice bottles in Oregon was just 32 percent, compared with 82 percent for beer and soft drink containers, which have deposits.
Despite those statistics and the strong sentiment for change among legislative leaders, business is not convinced changes are guaranteed.
``There are major political impediments to passing the expansion,'' said Pat McCormick, a principal in Conkling, Fiskum and McCormick Inc., a public affairs, communications and research firm in Portland that represents the 11 associations. ``It always sounds a lot easier to change than it is - especially if they decide to create a different system for recycling and move away from stores toward recycling centers.''
McCormick said the best solution still lies with ``fixing the sorting problem'' at material recovery facilities, where close to 20 percent of the containers - or 1,700 tons per year - are sorted improperly and end up being thrown away. He said correcting that situation would boost the amount of plastic containers recycled by three percentage points, making the discussion moot.
``Capturing all the plastics is the highest priority,'' he said. ``We can't have recycled plastics ending up in landfills. That is unacceptable.''
But DEQ Commissioner Bill Blosser disagrees with the assertion that better management of the plastics waste stream is the cure for the lagging recycling rate. He said the industry has been ``flirting'' with a 25 percent recycling rate since the recycled-content law was adopted in 1991.
``If I was a manufacturer, I would have been worried right away, not just in the last three months,'' he said.
If DEQ determines the rate won't rise back to 25 percent by next January, plastic container manufacturers and companies that sell products in plastic containers will have to achieve compliance through other options - mostly likely by having 25 percent recycled content in each container.
If the recycling rate for containers made of specific resins is above 25 percent, they would not need to achieve compliance through other options.
Spendelow said DEQ hopes to have that data compiled by the end of March.