WASHINGTON (March 12, 12:15 p.m. ET) — When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was looking for ways to improve its annual Municipal Solid Waste Characterization study, the Recycling Container Institute suggested the agency change the way the PET recycling rate was calculated.
Instead of using the rate of PET materials recovered for recycling, EPA should use the percentage of PET that was actually recovered, Susan Collins, the group's executive director told the agency. The utilization rate, then, would not include contamination such as caps, plastic wraps and lids.
Initially, when the study was released, EPA agreed and went with the 21 percent utilization rate, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources, for 2009.
But last month, EPA backtracked, revising the report to use the recovered rate and raising the national PET recycling rate to 29.2 percent.
“I was quite pleased in November and I was quite disappointed in the turnaround,” Collins said.
In a statement, EPA said the methodology was originally changed to be more precise, but was later changed back to be more consistent with how other materials are handled in the report.
“We are still evaluating the issue, so a decision on how it will be addressed in future reports is yet to be determined,” the statement said.
Collins said she is hopeful that EPA will take some time to fix all the recycling rates so that it uses the actual utilization rates, as it did with aluminum several years ago.
“There's a fairness and equity issue with aluminum having a recycling rate that is being recorded correctly, but PET's recycling rate isn't,” Collins said.
The change also brought the national recycling rate up a tenth of a percent to 34.1 percent.
In addition, the revised report showed that the recycling rate for consumer electronics fell from 26.6 percent to 19.6 percent. That change was also cited as following previous methodology, EPA said.
Collins said there are real implications associated with the rates, and it is extremely important to get them right.
“These recycling rates are used in all different ways,” Collins said. “They are used to set policy. They are used to figure out how much greenhouse gases we're reducing by recycling. And those greenhouse gas calculations are wrong because they're assuming stuff is being recycled, but it's not.”
The Recycling Container Institute expressed concern that polypropylene caps and lids from PET bottles are being double counted. But that is not the case, EPA said.
“To avoid double counting, we took the polypropylene caps and lids recovered with PET bottles and jars out of the polypropylene figures,” EPA said in the statement.