Response by the PRCC to the Op-Ed appearing on December 24 in the San Francisco Chronicle authored by Michael Sangiacomo, CEO and President of Recology, entitled “It’s time to cut use of plastics.”
Opinion // Open Forum
All plastics are not created equal
By Patty Moore
February 4, 2019
The Plastic Recycling Corporation of California (PRCC) commends Recology for “making San Francisco the most successful big city in America at reducing what goes to landfill.” However, Mr. Sangiacomo’s comments about the challenges with plastics in the environment omitted California’s recycling success story for PET plastic bottles in California.
The PRCC was created in 1987 as a non-profit, voluntary producer responsibility organization in response to the then new California beverage container recycling program. For the past 31 years, the mission of the PRCC has been to ensure that every PET beverage bottle collected in California gets recycled and reused to make a new bottle or other product. In addition to the accomplishments listed below, PRCC has assisted recyclers, reclaimers, and waste haulers (such as Recology who operates MRF’s) at the front end of the process to cost-effectively recycle quality PET bottles, ensure that all collected PET bottles are recycled and reused, and nurture California-based reclaimers that actually convert that material into pellet or flake material for secondary uses, discussed below. In fact, the PRCC has been described in public forums by prominent environmentalists as “a plastics success story” in California.
Mr. Sangiacomo’s comment that “a number of global policy reforms … have closed nearly all end-use markets for many plastic products” and the “… work of innovative companies to reverse engineer the plastics manufacturing process… have not proven scalable” is not true for PET bottles, which have a robust recycling and reclamation infrastructure for PET in California. As distinguished from other plastic types, PET (technically referred to as polyethylene terephthalate and denoted by the number “1” enclosed in chasing arrows embossed on containers) is a unique plastic polymer used predominantly in food and beverage containers because of its many attributes to deliver product safely, cost-effectively, easily recyclable and with a low carbon footprint.
The most unique feature of PET is its ability to be recycled into a variety of productive secondary uses including new food and beverage bottles, clamshells and thermoform packages, as well as carpet, strapping and polyester textiles. As a result, a mature marketplace exists for postconsumer PET and there are currently seven operating reclamation facilities located in California that purchase postconsumer PET—such as that collected by Recology— and convert this material into pellets or flake that is reused predominantly into new packaging.
The PRCC is proud of the following accomplishments and activities:
- 77% of California PET beverage bottles are recycled by consumers, thereby avoiding landfills;
- 40% (approximately 160m pounds) of scrap PET material collected in California is handled by the PRCC, almost none is exported offshore;
- The PRCC has entered into supply agreements with four California-based reclaimers to ensure a consistent demand for California’s recycled PET bottles;
- The PRCC has convened state and national meetings between PET reclaimers and container manufactures & users (food and beverage) to advocate for “design for recyclability” to eliminate problematic containers that compromise the reclamation process.
- As to mandatory recycled content mention by Mr. Sangiacomo in his Op-Ed… PET bottle manufacturers and users of PET beverage and food containers have voluntarily incorporated as high as 36% in their entire product lines—including some bottles with as high as 100% recycled material—all of which equates to hundreds of millions of pounds of post-consumer PET being used to make new containers.In fact, many beverage manufacturers have made commitments to significantly increase recycled content amounts but lack a sufficient steady supply of quality recycled PET feedstock.These accomplishments and activities have resulted in a mature PET commodity market so that postconsumer PET bottles are successfully recycled in California and thereby avoid landfills.The PRCC is committed to assisting Recology and other waste haulers to continue to find a market for PET containers that they collect; and invite other segments of the plastics industry to replicate our “success story.”Patty Moore is the Executive Director of the Plastic Recycling Corporation of California (PRCC) which has developed a positive reputation in the recycling industry for over 30 years. We invite you to learn more about the unique characteristics of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) by visiting the PRCC website at PRCC.biz.