Alliance Aims to Double Bottle Recycling

Alliance Aims to Double Bottle Recycling

A group of environmentalists and a major carpet manufacturer have announced a venture to double the nation’s bottle-recycling rate.

The effort, tentatively named Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling, would work on recycling all types of containers but would emphasize plastic because its recycling rates have been declining for several years, according to a source in the talks who asked not to be identified.

"We are trying to solve a problem," the source said. "This is not about traditional environmentalist and business positions. We are trying quietly and privately to see what we can do."

Participants in the talks say they will focus on bottle-deposit legislation as well as setting an 80% bottle-recycling rate, which some of its members feel can be met with deposits.

The group is trying to enlist waste haulers, carpet makers using PET (a clear transparent sheet made from thermoplastic polyester and FDA-approved for food contact) as raw materials, and other interested businesses, sources said. Other environmental groups taking part in the project include the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington and the GrassRoots Recycling Network in Athens, Ga.

The Turner Foundation has agreed to back the project to the tune of $150,000 a year for three years. Beaulieu of America, the world’s third-largest carpet maker, has pledged what a spokesman described as "a significant amount" of money.

What’s At Stake

Gauging the potential impact of the recycling group is tough. Details are not final and are not likely to be announced for at least a month, said Matt Petersen, executive director of Global Green, in whose Santa Monica, Calif., offices the new venture will be headquartered.

But the effort comes as plastics recyclers are getting increasingly anxious about supply problems.

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers issued a news release Aug. 31 saying that recyclers face a supply "crisis."

"The system is broken and we need to fix it, and we need the whole packaging industry chain to focus on a sustainable solution," said Phil Cavin, national procurement director for carpet maker Mohawk Industries in Summerville, Ga.

Luke Schmidt, president of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C., said, "We would submit that bottle bills can be somewhat punitive. They can be somewhat detrimental to our customer base. We would prefer to find other, more positive ways to increase PET recycling."

The American Plastics Council has been pushing an all-bottle recycling program, which was endorsed recently by the National Soft Drink Association in Washington. APC will detail its program Sept. 12 at the National Recycling Coalition’s annual congress.

Many communities include only PET and high-density polyethylene bottles in plastic collection programs. But Arlington-based APC said its studies show that when households are encouraged to recycle all plastic bottles, PET and HDPE collection gets a boost of up to 10%.

APC said an all-bottle program is simple, cost-effective and can catch containers not covered by deposits.

More Funding Sought

Global Green hopes business community funding will be close to or more than what Turner has pledged, Petersen said. Petersen said the group hopes to follow the International Green Cross model and get environmentalists and businesses to work together.