The perennial supply issue that recyclers face is undeniably connected to the frustrating struggle to collect more materials.
And it is a frustration for state and local governments as well as for reclaimers.
There is a limit to what governments can do without help from the outside, said Scott Mouw, recycling director for the state of North Carolina. Municipalities are limited by capital restraints and collection resources, and budgets are only so big. There is no near-term answer to increasing supply on the horizon.
But regardless of the constraints, Mouw said cities, counties and states need to find ways to get curbside functioning at a higher level and to get more carts on streets and more bins at parks, recreation and entertainment venues.
With curbside collection, switching to carts can provide a boost, said Mouw. But the greater challenge is how to collect more than just PET and high density polyethylene bottles.
There is always some boost to collection from switching to carts, but it is incremental growth, he said. What we really have to do is improve non-bottle container collection. We have to look at how we can make collection and processing of those materials work. There is increasing pressure on material recovery facilities and reclaimers to deal with this and go beyond bottles.
Steve Alexander, executive director of the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, agreed. We need to recycle material beyond bottles, he said. Demand is going to be there because there is a demand for the end product, and there is more and more interest from consumer products companies.
Both APR and the National Association for PET Container Resources of Sonoma, Calif., are working to resolve issues impeding the collection of more non-bottle rigid plastics. For its part, NAPCOR is addressing obstacles to collecting and recycling thermoformed PET packaging.
In simultaneous efforts to collect more on-the-go material from public places, there are encouraging signs, Mouw said.
One-by-one, communities and companies are looking at where they can expand their collection efforts, he said. There are more requests for bins and carts at parks, recreation facilities and entertainment venues. It is piecemeal, but as a group, those recycling efforts are moving in the right direction.
In addition, on-the-go initiatives from Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo are expanding opportunities for consumers to recycle.
Pepsi will put 3,000 Dream Machines for collecting plastic beverage bottles and cans and giving consumers reward points for recycling in public places this year. Coca-Cola has spearheaded event recycling at NASCAR races and provided funding for communities, groups, schools and other organizations to buy recycling bins.
These initiatives are changing public perceptions about what recycling is, Mouw said. The power of these companies is to sell to the public. People now seem to understand the need to be green. They now automatically think of what they should do with trash.
With the amount of available supply still so dependent on government programs and their budgets, Mouw said more corporations must step up and get involved in collection.
The need to have recycled resin to make products with recycled content may force brand owners the consumer packaged goods companies to really think about what's happening with plastics recycling and their stake in it, and to get more involved in the supply side, he said. To that end, extended producer responsibility will be a majority point of discussion in the next five years, he added.
Right now beverage companies are farther ahead than consumer goods companies in that respect, Mouw said. I see real momentum behind producer responsibility programs and how you make programs like that work. He noted that states are looking to model off the success of such programs in Canada.
Juxtaposed against the collection issue is the decreasing quality of bales.
Quality is fairly stagnant now with yields continuing to decline, said Scott Saunders, general manager of KW Recycling in Troy, Ala.
Cities are collecting more types of material because of more single-stream recycling, and foreign buyers have lower quality requirements than the U.S, enabling material recovery facilities to worry less about what goes into a bale, Saunders said.
Unfortunately, that lower bale quality is something that reclaimers are just going to have to learn how to handle, said NAPCOR's executive director, Dennis Sabourin.
We have to go for more collection, otherwise we will be sending confused messages to consumers, Sabourin said. We want them to recycle more even if it is not PET and HDPE. It is very important that we do all we can to recycle more PET packages and other packages and containers not being recycled.
Mouw agreed: It is a seller's market. Plastic reclaimers have to swallow hard and accept what they can get.
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