The continuing shift by communities from resin-specific to all-plastic-bottle recycling programs is having a positive effect on collection efforts, without increasing costs in most cases - even though it potentially can create contamination problems.
``Many of the communities told us that all bottles is easier for the public to understand,'' said Judith Dunbar, environmental issues director for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va.
Dunbar unveiled preliminary data from an ACC survey conducted by Resource Recycling Inc. of Portland, Ore., at the Plastics Recycling 2007 conference, held Feb 13-14 in Dallas.
Since 2003, she said, 458 communities have switched to collecting all plastic bottles - a 28 percent increase that has raised the number of communities with such programs to 2,075. In some states the increases have been dramatic, with California jumping from 123 to 185, Washington from 69 to 125 and Kansas going from no programs to 48.
``The industry has gone to single-stream recycling,'' said Dennis Sabourin, executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif. ``It is more consumer-friendly.''
Dunbar said 92 percent of the communities that responded to the survey said all-plastic-bottle collection programs increased recovery levels of both PET and high-density polyethylene from 10-30 percent.
While close to 25 percent reported all-bottle collections also triggered more problems with contamination, the majority - just over 75 percent - did not mention contamination as a problem, she said.
``The reality is that the consumers do not look at the numbers'' that are imprinted on plastics bottles and containers to identify seven categories of resins, Dunbar said. ``They are a confusing educational tool. The all-bottles message is far easier for the public to understand.''
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers in Washington first embraced that approach in 2000. It recently began preliminary discussions with NAPCOR and the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. on the feasibility of modifying the nearly 20-year-old system that identifies plastics by seven different numbers.
Communities without all-bottle programs typically collect only PET (No. 1) bottles and high density polyethylene (No. 2) bottles.
Almost nine out of 10 communities - 89 percent - said switching to all-plastic-bottle collections did not increase their collection costs and another 5.5 percent said their collection costs had dropped as a result of the shift. Similarly, 72.5 percent said there had been no change in their sorting and processing costs, while 27.5 percent said those costs had gone up slightly.
Almost half of the communities now market and sell more than just the PET and HDPE plastics they collect.
Five out of every six, or 83 percent, of the communities that responded to the survey said that if given the chance, they would switch again to all-bottle collection programs and 96 percent said they would recommend collecting all bottles to other communities contemplating a switch.
She said 45 percent of the communities that collect all plastic bottles also said they collect other plastics. But while there is a lot of interest on the part of communities in collecting rigid containers, only a few are collecting plastic film, she said.
Dunbar also said many of the communities that contract their collection work to a third-party said they lack useful data on tonnage, contamination or processing costs.
Conversely, she said communities with data-reporting requirements said they have ``more control over the programs and can make targeted improvements'' in educational efforts to improve the amount of materials collected and to increase their leverage to negotiate fees and revenues.