Should we use more recycled materials in PET bottles?
Yes, we should be using recycled PET in bottle applications. Although it may not be obvious to all, there’s been a sea change in the world of waste.
I’m referring to the understanding that there must and will be shared responsibility for evolving solutions by all those involved in creating what we’ve historically called “waste.” This means that manufacturers, retailers, consumers, recyclers and haulers will have a hand in the evolution and implementation of practices that maximize the value of our natural resources.
While some remain skeptical of this concept of stewardship, the skeptics are swimming against not just a current, but a wave of public sentiment. Stewardship of our resources is the future, and the reuse of plastics in their highest possible applications is key.
Foremost among the reasons to use recycled content PET in bottles is the fact that the soft drink industry is responsible for generating 22 billion PET plastic bottles every year. Of these, only 35.6% are recovered for recycling, and a whopping 64.4% are burned or buried! By using just 25% recycled PET in their containers, the industry that is responsible for the creation of this packaging can have a hand in improving demand for it, in the form of stable and strong markets for recycled PET.
It is the type of demand, however, that is the issue. When industry claims that demand for recycled PET is strong, they are speaking of recycled PET for fiber (carpet and strapping) and coatings, which pay substantially less than bottle markets. High-end bottle markets consistently return two to five cents more per pound to recyclers. With current scrap prices in the range of six to 10 cents per pound from fiber markets, bottle markets would increase the scrap price by 33% to 50%!
Recycled PET, like virgin PET, is a commodity, subject to the laws of supply and demand. If demand for recycled PET increases with its use in bottles, then its value will likely increase. And, with an increase in price, the soft drink industry will finally have a direct financial interest in supporting increased recovery of its bottles. Our state and local governments all have recycling goals to meet.
The steel, paper and aluminum industries all have recovery goals. Why not the plastics industry? Given that states with deposit systems have documented 75% recovery rates, why not a goal of 50%? Perhaps these issues wouldn’t arise if cost weren’t a consideration. But the days of the open checkbook of the American taxpayer are long gone, and government is subject to propositions and levy limits that make the cost of services a determining factor. Our recycling programs literally can’t absorb the results of any and all profit-driven marketing decisions. According to industry studies, the processing cost of PET plastics has increased by 46% from 1992 to 1997.
The message from local governments is this: our commitment to recycle whatever consumer packaging hits the marketplace has come to an end. The responsibility for making recycling work efficiently is today a shared one. Let’s all rise to the occasion.
Nara Loca Abadi is a recycled plastic specialist that concerned about the earth and environment by promoting the use of recycled PET flakes, recycled PET, recycled PP & HDPE granules to various plastic and polyester manufacturers.