A push by lawmakers in California for 75 percent recycled content in PET bottles is moving some in the plastics bottling and beverage industries to sign on to something that's previously been hard for them to accept: government-mandated recycled content in bottles.
As California's Legislature considers several tough new plastic waste laws, a trio of industry groups — the Plastic Recycling Corp. of California (PRCC), the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the American Beverage Association (ABA) — are telling lawmakers they are OK with a broad-based law requiring recycled content. Just not at the 75 percent level legislators want.
"We support the mandatory recycled [content] approach in this bill," said Mike Knudsen, a Sacramento, Ca.-based lobbyist for IBWA. "That's relatively new for us. This is a very challenging issue, and our primary objection to the bill is it's just too much, too fast."
Knudsen and others spoke at a July 3 state Senate hearing in Sacramento, held to look at legislation that would require 25 percent recycled content in PET bottles in 2021 and ramp up to 75 percent by 2030. All plastic containers covered by the state's bottle bill would be included.
Bottle makers and beverage companies support lower levels.
PRCC, for example, wrote in a June 24 letter to California lawmakers that it "can support legislation that provides a mandate of 10 percent by 2021 and steadily increases up to 25 percent by 2025," but warned that the current legislation "will cause market havoc, supply challenges and price spikes."
Advocates for the tougher California bill, however, say setting high legal requirements is a logical next step for recycling. They said it would help beleaguered recyclers by boosting demand for recycled PET and defer some taxpayer costs for recycling.
A coalition of PET recycling companies in California, including Carbonlite Industries and RePet Inc., have hired a lobbyist in Sacramento to support the bill.
"Our industry is in crisis and has been for the last seven, eight years," said Alex Delnik, president of Verdeco Recycling Inc., a maker of recycled PET in South Gate, Calif., and a member of the coalition.
Delnik said that growing U.S. production of virgin PET and subsidized imports of virgin resin have led to lower prices and hurt the economics of recycling.
"We have to compete on price with the hydrocarbon-based virgin PET industry," he said. "Virgin PET prices are lower today than they were eight, 10 years ago."
He argued that recycled content has benefits over virgin materials because it "significantly" reduces the carbon footprint of plastic packaging.