The plastics recycling community is disappointed in the recent Plastic News editorial [“As goes Coke ...,” April 25, Page 6], which links operational problems of one recycling entity to a supposed malaise for the entire plastics recycling industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recent struggles at the Coca-Cola Co. and NURRC LLC recycling facility have made few overall waves in the postconsumer resin market. Record-high bale prices clearly indicate that PCR remains a hot commodity.
North American plastics recyclers continually show great ingenuity and entrepreneurial skill in adjusting to changing feedstock conditions. More than 18 North American recycling companies boast the ability to produce consistently high-quality, food-grade PCR. More than 40 companies consistently create the quality recycled resin needed for the carpeting, packaging, pipe, strapping, automotive and other industries.
Demand for recycled plastic grows as an increasing number of consumer goods and packaging manufacturers look to PCR as a clean and reliable feedstock. Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers members have invested in the technology, de- veloped the flexibility, and pursued the growth potential needed to keep up with demand for our materials. The demand is there, the processing capacity is there. What's missing? Reliable quantities of high-grade bales. It is well-understood that the current capacity to process PCR outpaces domestically sourced supply.
While market pressures to find good material sources continue to intensify, so have concerns about bale quality and yield loss. APR has for many years acted to promote better bale yields through our design for recyclability guidelines, guidance testing program, and model bale specifications programs. These programs have a single goal: to boost the number of high-quality bales of postconsumer plastic. Obviously better bales mean higher prices for materials-recovery facilities and better efficiency for reclaimers and manufacturers alike. The need for high-quality bales reflects concern with operational efficiency, economics, and aesthetically pleasing product.
The editorial presented the false and misleading suggestion that bio-based plastic can somehow be an alternative to plastic recycling. The subtheme of the suggestion is that an item bio-based and disposed is somehow better than an item recycled. And the implied suggestion is that “bio” means degrading and somehow that is a social good in resource conservation. Degradation inherently loses resources captured in recycling.
The correct discussion is not “recycled and/or renewable,” but how to best conserve resources. Whether bio-based or fossil-fuel-based, all virgin plastics deplete resources. We do not automatically know if a bio-based or traditionally based virgin plastic is the best use of resources without careful definitions and analysis. Whether a specific polymer is bio-based or non-bio-based has no inherent bearing on its recyclability.
Recycling either bio-based or fossil-fuel-based plastics beats those virgin materials on all important measures of sustainability. Disposed bio-based plastic does not show superior sustainability attributes to recycled plastic. Polyethylene can be made from sugar cane or from a byproduct of natural gas production. The better conservation of resources, the measure of sustainability, favors the recycling of the PE from either source over the landfill disposal of PE from either source. No plastic, bio-based or traditionally sourced, is so “green” that it need not be collected and recycled.
Steve Alexander is executive director of the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.