Two plastics recycling associations say brand owners are mislabeling bottles as PET or PET-compatible, and improperly labeled bottles are creating problems for companies that recycle PET.
Without identifying any specific companies or containers, the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers and the National Association for PET Container Resources said March 15 their members are seeing an increasing number of bottles marked with the PET resin identification code that aren't made just from PET, as well as bottles that are labeled as compatible with PET recycling when those bottles actually wreak havoc with the recycling stream.
There has been misuse of the resin identification code significantly so, said Dennis Sabourin, executive director of Sonoma, Calif.-based NAPCOR, in a phone interview. It is causing problems because these mislabeled containers have significantly lower melt temperatures that will cause the recycled material to stick together inside the dryer.
Technically, the resin identification code is not a recycling code, but it has become the de facto national standard. It has been adopted as law in 39 states because it is viewed by consumers as a recycling code. ASTM International currently is reviewing the code to determine whether it needs revision.
This has been going on for awhile, but we have seen it exacerbated in the last year or so, added Steve Alexander, executive director of Washington-based APR.
We need to call this to the attention of brand owners, container manufacturers and the attorneys general in those 39 states, he said. This is a huge issue for us because these bottles can destroy the rest of the material in the bale. We are looking to deal with this issue before it becomes an even-greater detriment to the recycling of all plastics packaging.
Alexander said APR members have seen containers labeled as compatible with PET recycling and we have no idea what that means because they are not. He also said reclaimers have seen bottles with handles on them labeled as PET which he said is not technically possible.
As David Cornell, technical director for APR, explained, virtually all PET bottles are really made from copolymers in order to increase melt strength and enhance processability.
The problem comes when so much copolymer is added that the resulting polyester no longer behaves like PET bottle polymer and may not process well together with PET, Cornell said. Sometimes folks do get carried away on claims, and wrong or insufficient words are said about compatibility.
What's more, the issue has intensified because of the public perception that bottles labeled with No. 7 (other) are not recyclable, he said.
No bottle maker wants to put No. 7 on a bottle because of the inherent bad publicity No. 7s carry these days, Cornell said. The result has been that polyesters chemically related to PET bottle resin are being called No. 1s when they probably should not be because of adverse processing effects.
Sabourin declined to say how long the two associations will wait before taking the next step, or what that next step might be.
We are trying to say to brand owners that they should adhere to the laws and principles of the [resin identification code]. This is our first attempt to do so.
We are hoping brand owners step up and take action on their own before this becomes a problem that reaches critical mass, Sabourin said. They know what they are doing and should make changes. We are attempting to protect the PET recycling stream.
Sabourin noted that the code has been largely self-policing and, until recent years, this has been successful.
In California and Canada, there also are potential financial repercussions from mislabeled containers, as those governments place fees on containers based on the code.
ASTM subcommittee members currently are voting on a proposal that would alter the code to add No. 10 for polylactic acid and No. 11 for 1,4-cyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate copolyester. They are also considering whether to add the use of a plus (+) sign for products that contain a single resin as well as at least one layer of additional material.
That vote, which ends April 5, is the fifth vote taken by the ASTM subcommittee working on the project and is part of the continuing process of revising the code, which could take at long as two more years.
ASTM also is looking at whether high density polyethylene cups should be classified differently than HDPE bottles, and when, or if, a PET containershould be labeled something else because of additives and barrier layers.
Right now the primary thing we are looking at is: Should we be adding new codes and what goes into each? said Tom Pecorini, a senior research associate at Eastman Chemical Co., who is currently on loan to ASTM as a technical contact.
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