A number of trends have some reclaimers and recycling industry officials encouraged that the outlook for plastics collection is brighter than it has been in the past, at least for throwaway bottles and containers.
``You have green anxiety, sustainability initiatives, and the vested interest of parties like Coca-Cola all emerging at the same time,'' said Scott Mouw, chief recycling officer for the state of North Carolina.
``That is a leverage point to get us to the next level of collection that hasn't been there before. You have a convergence of factors that will change the collection environment in the next five years,'' Mouw said.
Steve Alexander, director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, based in Washington, agreed.
``Wal-Mart is bringing a lot of public attention to the whole concept of sustainability, packaging development and disposal,'' he said. ``There is a lot more emphasis on enhanced recycling to get more material out of landfills.''
That's reflected in an expanded recycling consciousness on college campuses. And among elementary school students, educators have begun programs to raise children's awareness at an early age.
There is also a push from private industry and some associations. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. and National Recycling Coalition Inc. of Washington last fall initiated a bin grant program to help municipalities and organizations to acquire recycling bins.
Similarly, since November, the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council has helped the state of California buy and place 529 recycling bins on 25 state beaches.
In addition, states are bumping up collection volumes in different ways. Oregon mandates 25 percent recycling rates, California boosted its container redemption value in 2007, and North Carolina has adopted a disposal ban on plastic bottles, effective October 2009.
``You have to give people access and you have to get them motivated,'' Mouw said. ``If we had more recycling bins with good signage, people would recycle more at parks and athletic fields. The challenge is to leverage the existing collection structure into other venues.''
Patty Moore, president of Moore Recycling Associates Inc. in Sonoma, Calif., said improvement in recycling comes down to two things better sorting at materials recovery facilities and improved education to consumers about what is recyclable and how to recycle.
``While it sounds trite, a good education campaign has proven time and time again that it can dramatically increase recycling rates of all materials, including plastics,'' Moore said.
But cities do not have the funds to educate their residents about recycling, she said. These movements have to be local since each city collects a different set of materials.
``If there was some consistency about what was collected curbside around the country, industry could step in and do more education,'' she said. ``But, unfortunately, that seems just as unlikely as local education.''
There are exceptions to that. ACC's campaign in California has a uniform approach, she said. In addition, there is a uniform look to the in-store plastic bag recycling educational messages in California, which ACC hopes will spread nationwide because of the toolkit, along with signage and posters, it offers to grocers and retailers.
``The second thing that needs to occur for recycling to improve is better sorting at MRFs,'' Moore said.
``With the increase in single-stream recycling, more and more plastic as much as 5 percent is ending up in the paper stream. That might not sound like a lot, but paper is a lot heavier than plastic and 5 percent plastic in the waste stream equals as much as 40 percent of the plastic that enters the MRF,'' she said.