Longtime plastics recycling advocate Dennis Sabourin said bold steps are needed to increase supplies of not just recycled PET bottles but all plastics and recycling materials.
The executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., and a former Wellman Inc. executive said it is time for extended producer-responsibility laws and eco-fees on products. Also needed are public-policy initiatives that provide funds for recyclers to create green jobs and for stakeholders to come together, in coalition-style, to advance the recycling of all materials.
Even with the green movement, Sabourin said, recycling is still not a front-burner issue, as it was in 1995, when the PET recycling rate climbed to nearly 40 percent. That rate plummeted to less than 20 percent by 2003 before rebounding in 2008 to 27 percent based on the most recent numbers available.
All the stakeholders companies, associations, the retail community, the brand owners, recyclers and the government need to move recycling back to the front burner, Sabourin said in a telephone interview. There are a number of organizations talking about doing things, but we need to pull together in a coordinated fashion, and do it in a way that you don't disadvantage a single packaging material. We need to focus on all packages.
If the right steps are not taken, the plastics industry will end up with more of the same when it comes to recycled resin supplies, with recycling rates inching up incrementally.
Sabourin said he would like to see the federal government to back up its claims that it wants to create green jobs.
Why not have a national initiative to divert some of the stimulus funds to recycling on a broad-based effort? he asked. That would create jobs in the United States.
He called initiatives introduced by Vermont and Rhode Island, and the extended producer-responsibility law passed by Maine earlier this year, steps in the right direction. They will not give us any immediate relief from a supply standpoint, but EPR will bear fruit down the road, he said, noting that an EPR law in Canada has given recycling rates there a huge boost. Canada's return/diversion rate for non-alcoholic beverage containers is 64 percent.
I would like to see a combination of EPR, along with some responsibility placed on the consumer, Sabourin said. Why not something like an eco-fee that could be used to fund the system?That would let us go further down the system, close the loop and create jobs.
Sabourin said the biggest obstacle to more recycling is the lack of a concerted public policy to motivate consumers to recycle, a move that would create jobs.
Over the past year, consumer-product companies have made commitments ranging from the collection of packaging to the use of recycled content in their products, Sabourin said. There are a number of positive signs, ranging from the collection of material at arenas and programs to boost on-the-go recycling, to an increased number of municipalities collecting plastics.
There are plenty of materials out there and plenty of markets for those materials. We have to reach out and start working together to get more materials collected, he said.
Copyright 2010 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.