Sustainability. Increasing Demand. Recycled Content. Closing the Loop. These are buzzwords we hear every day from companies and associations as they describe how they are working to improve plastic recycling. With all of these efforts being released at the same time, sometimes it looks as if many stakeholders are working at cross purposes. For example, many brands have released sustainability reports with commitments of using 25%, 30%, or more recycled PET in their products. Not to be outdone, states are getting into the act as well. California’s legislature just passed one of the toughest laws on the planet to require recycled content in in plastic bottles. And while all of these efforts are meant to improve plastic recycling, it may be putting the cart before the horse. NAPCOR, an association that represents the PET packaging industry has come out and said that collection rates are too low to fulfill all of these new commitments. These efforts are a response to public pressures that are clamoring for stakeholders “to do something.” But as we have seen, sometimes doing something may create more challenges in trying to fix current problems.
Another outgrowth of all this activity is many stakeholders are claiming to have the answers to the recycling challenges we face and they are the recycling experts. Make no mistake, they don’t represent the recycling industry, and they aren’t the experts. ISRI is the only association that represents what we do. Our unique position in the recycling industry requires us to speak up and provide our suggestions and expertise when needed. Our industry is at a crossroads and we must not shy away from this challenge or working with these stakeholders to find solutions. It may be difficult or uncomfortable, but stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is the only way to grow. When faced with challenges in the past, ISRI has always found ways to rise above them and this situation is no different.
To meet these challenges, ISRI is working with multiple stakeholders to fix the pinch points holding increased collection rates back. For example, we’re working with the Recycling Partnership to develop documents that will give MRFs and municipalities tools to develop “win-win” contracts. The contracting process is one that needs an overhaul as many of these contracts do not spell out in clear enough detail their related responsibilities and as a result, many curbside recycling programs are struggling.
In another instance, we are working with the Association of Plastic Recyclers to develop a protocol that will help MRFs understand how two-dimensional and three-dimensional materials behave while moving across the conveyor. This project will help MRFs make cleaner and better quality commodity bales.
But we’re also working on developing projects that only we can take on. Our Plastics Resin Identification Guide will help our members understand how to handle the resins that come into their yards. Unlike other associations that are working on improving plastic recycling, our association proudly represents recyclers of all types and it is this diversity that makes us unique. It also provides us with special challenges. This guide will not only help our plastic recycling members but our “metals guys,” our “paper folks,” and electronics members that bring in hundreds if not thousands of pounds of plastic on a daily basis. Plastics for some of these members is a special challenge and our reference guide will help them navigate the sometimes confusing world of plastic recycling. Helping them recycle the plastics they come in contact with will only improve the overall picture for plastic recycling.
ISRI has a loud and influential voice that can be used to fix the problems that lay before us. I am confident in the months and years ahead, we will continue to use our voice to ensure recyclers are providing the solutions the industry needs.
Plastics Division Chair