American Chemistry Council focuses on plastic
Improving the recycling rate for plastics, both
residential and non-residential, is taking on new import with the
high price of energy.
The United States consumes a substantial amount
of plastic annually through various products (domestic and imported)
and enhancing the collection infrastructure to meet industry, environment
and energy concerns is gaining wider support and acceptance. Steven
Russell, the managing director of the Plastics Division for the
American Chemistry Council (ACC), in the following interview, discusses
recent initiatives and strategies to support recycling efforts.
Question: Do enough Americans realize the value of
plastic and are they doing enough to ensure that is it recycled?
Answer: Plastics are a resource that is too valuable
to waste – certainly too valuable to end up as litter. Therefore,
we believe it’s important to work together to increase opportunities
to allow the public to recycle more plastics.
Our opinion research told us that Californians,
in particular, want more options that enable them to recycle when
away from home. We did some creative thinking and came up with
some novel approaches to partner with the California Department
of Parks & Recreation
(State Parks) and Keep California Beautiful (KCB) to roll out a
new campaign on State Park sites in the San Luis Obispo and Los
Angeles coastal areas that began in November.
The campaign also will help promote two key goals
of America Recycles Day, which include encouraging people to recycle
more and to support recycling events in their communities.
The campaign recycling bins and/or educational
displays that will be found on beaches will be marked with messages
reminding Californians that “Plastics are too Valuable to Waste
– Recycle.” Significant campaign funding through 2008 is coming
from the ACC.
Question: Should government and various industry groups
unite to develop a plastic recycling program similar to recycling
programs that were in effect during the Second World War?
Answer: There are not enough opportunities right
now for Americans to recycle, so ACC’s program in California is
a start. It will help us to find out what kind of programs would
work and to see where we might create additional innovative partnerships
with governments and government agencies.
We’re looking at California as a first step,
but every state and locality is going to have its own unique needs
and approaches, and we are not going to presume a one-size-fits-all
approach will fit everywhere.
Question: Would an at-purchase recycling
fee for products with plastic packaging, be it federal or state
initiated, help to create an infrastructure to enhance recycling
Answer: The best way to start to increase
the infrastructure would be to explore simpler, less resource-intensive
schemes. We hope to take a more direct approach by increasing
public awareness. We believe that with public awareness comes
capacity, and with capacity, the market would be able to step
in and right itself.
Question: Have there been any attempts to organize
national conferences or ongoing discussions to develop a unified
policy to promote the recycling of plastic?
Answer: I’m not aware of any
conferences, but we’re certainly in favor of increasing recycling
at a national level. However, the evidence does not seem to suggest
that a single national approach would work. You would need to have
MRFs, a transportation infrastructure and a customer base. There
are all sorts of local waste laws and waste stream and recycling
programs that differ from community to community.
Question: How would you describe the role of legislation
to promote recycling?
Answer: There is a place for legislation, but
we are more interested in finding unique approaches in particular
areas where there is a need. We identified a need in California
and looked at some creative public-private partnerships to meet
Question: How important are education programs
for adults and children to promote plastic recycling?
Answer: Public education is a critical component
of ACC’s plastics initiative. As we expand the campaign in 2008,
we are looking at opportunities to reach out to school children.
We’ve learned from our focus groups that quite often household
recycling is inspired by children who learn about it in school.
In essence, it is reverse learning and it very effective.
It should be noted that in 2006, Californians
recycled more than 12 billion beverage containers – an increase
of 814 million containers compared to 2005. California still leads
the nation in total quantity of bottles and cans recycled.
Question: What do you make of the growing movement
by communities to enact bans on plastic shopping bags and concern
about the environmental impact of plastic bags?
Answer: We understand the concerns, and we are
working and developing programs to increase the recycling of plastic
bags, and to make sure the public understands that plastic bags
are an environmentally-responsible choice. California has a new
law that requires large grocers and retailers to offer in-store
drop-off collection of bags and we strongly support that legislation.
ACC is working with individual grocers and retailers to promote
the recycling of bags. We have a great resource, www.plasticbagrecycling.org,
that helps provide technical assistance to commercial parties.
Question: What steps are being taken to reduce
the amount and weight of plastic packaging?
Answer: That is mainly the result of this industry’s
propensity for innovation. For instance, both the two-liter plastic
water bottle and the one-gallon milk jug now weigh 33 percent less
than they did in the 1970s. This reflects the spirit of innovation
that has characterized our industry and it also makes good business
Question: Is there a long-term attainable goal
for the collection of plastic via recycling?
Answer: There is. With plastic bottles, for example,
there exists a highly developed infrastructure for recycling, which
enables us to track the quantities collected each year. In 2005,
the latest year for which tracking data are available, collection
reached an all-time high of 2.1 billion pounds, while the recycling
rate grew to nearly 25 percent. We are not where we want to be
and there is room for improvement, but we do have a good story
to tell and we are working to do more.