As executive director for NAPCOR, the trade organization for PET packaging in the U.S. and Canada, I feel it imperative to comment on an April 25, Page 1 article about the NURRC reclamation plant in Spartanburg, S.C.: “Coke's Vitters: Plant will resume food-grade operations by summer.”
For many involved or interested in recycling — including users of food-contact recycled PET and the general public — the article sowed uncertainty. The statement made by Coke's Scott Vitters — “The issue is not so much what's in the bale, but the contamination in the PET material itself” — is especially misleading in its implications about the viability of food- and beverage-grade RPET produced in the U.S. and Canada from curbside, deposit and drop-off material.
Misperceptions potentially jeopardize the extraordinary investments made in the PET reclamation industry. The National Association for PET Container Resources, or NAPCOR, estimates that over the last two years alone, these investments have exceeded $300 million, much of which has been focused on increasing and improving bottle-to-bottle material capacity. Some other facts:
* In 2009, more than 203 million pounds of RPET was used back into PET bottles, almost half from curbside bottles.
* This material was produced by at least eight North American reclamation plants with FDA “letter of non-objection” status, allowing them to produce direct food/ beverage-contact RPET material.
* Besides these eight plants, two plants make LNO RPET specifically for direct food contact in PET thermoformed packaging.
* The NURRC plant is not the world's largest bottle-to-bottle plant, nor will it be if or when it's completed this summer, according to available information; it is a minor contributor to the 203 million pounds mentioned above.
* Bale quality, as it relates to yield, continues to be an issue, but is not a recent occurrence. NAPCOR agrees that bale quality is a major cost and technical impediment and something that needs to be addressed nationwide; reclaimers have been dealing with it for a long time. Bale quality should not be confused with the quality of virgin or RPET used to produce PET packaging.
* Encouraging brand owners and package designers to adhere to “design for recyclability” is an essential part of maintaining a high-quality recycling stream. We find it disconcerting that Mr. Vitters makes mention of this since a number of major issues confronting PET reclaimers today are a result of bottles used to package Coke products. NAPCOR fully supports the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers' ongoing development of design-for-recycling guidelines and test protocols for PET bottles and thermoforms and HDPE, and urges Coke to do so as well.
We understand the specifics of the NURRC situation were reported as experienced and interpreted by the immediate players, but the NURRC experience is not indicative of the PET reclamation industry at large. The food- and beverage-grade RPET infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada is robust and limited only by adequate supply of recycled PET containers.