The down market for recycled plastics could get a boost if more plastics companies took advantage of government purchasing policies that give incentives for recycled content in government purchasing, according to a new report.
The Feb. 1 report from the Plastics Industry Association said that 32 states and numerous federal government agencies give some degree of preferential purchasing status to products with environmental benefits, including recycled content.
“In today's climate where demand for recycled resins is down, [the Plastics Industry Association's] recycling committee is looking for opportunities that will help drive demand,” said Kim Holmes, vice president of sustainability at the Washington-based association. “State and federal EPP policies have a lot of unrealized potential in terms of better positioning use of recycled content.
“Our hope is that this guide will uncover new opportunities to use recycled content and offer recyclers a new sales strategy for positioning their materials with customers,” she said.
The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide said that institutional purchasing, in both the government and private sector, amounts to $10 trillion a year in the United States.
The report does not present any information on the amount of recycled content purchasing of plastic products. But it noted that federal government requirements on recycled content copy paper in the 1990s played a major role in helping to build that market.
And it noted ongoing federal work, including a 2015 executive order tasking the Environmental Protection Agency with better defining sustainable purchasing across the federal government.
It said that of the 32 states with general requirements for buying environmentally preferable products, 12 have specific requirements for plastic products.
The report looked at the efforts of one maker of recycled plastic flooring and construction products, EcoStrate SFS Inc. in Arlington, Texas, to try to build sales with government EPP programs.
On the positive side, EcoStrate “found that many government agencies are less driven by price considerations and more driven by their environmental image when EPP policies are in place. So, there's a great strategic opportunity,” the report said. “This was particularly the case in California.”
But the association also said the company's experience points out the significant challenges facing companies in understanding government rules: Texas and California have relatively easy to understand environmental product purchasing systems while others do not.
“While EcoStrate has not yet seen the environmental positioning of their products translate to an increase in sales, it has increased opportunity,” the report said. “One of the biggest challenges is navigating the bureaucratic system.”