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All eyes on environmental issues in 1992.

All Eyes on Environmental Issues in 1992

With some 500 bills proposed in 1991, solid-waste management is still the plastics industry's greatest regulatory concern. Although issues of clean air, clean water and worker safety will also demand industry attention in 1992, bills such as the reauthorization of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the government crackdown on package labeling keep waste management in the forefront, according to spokesmen at SPI's federal affairs and state affairs departments and Council for Solid Waste Solutions (CSWS).

Public understanding of what's required for comprehensive solid-waste management is extremely limited, as shown in a recent survey cosponsored by the Council on Plastics and Packaging in the Environment (COPPE), Washington, D.C., and Environmental Research Associates. In the survey, Americans were asked to name a method other than recycling for disposing of trash. Forty-five percent could not answer the question, 23% said incineration, 14% said composting, 12% mentioned landfilling, and 6% said source reduction. COPPE points out that more than 80% of U.S. trash now goes into landfills.

Recycling is popular because "it lets the public participate in an environmental solution," says Rodney Lowman, CSWS v.p. of government affairs. But, he adds, the perception that recycling is the only solution "slows down development of other options," like incineration and composting.

In 1991, 42 bills were introduced at the state level that would mandate recycled content for packaging, and two proposals were passed affecting plastics packaging, according to CSWS. Nationwide, 104 bills were introduced requiring plastics to meet a recycling standard, and 12 of these proposals were enacted.

In the late 1980s, proposals to ban specific plastic products were rampant, as was degradability legislation. But in 1991, only 83 proposals called for degradable plastics, compared with 190 in 1990, according to CSWS statistics. Of all plastics, polystyrene continues to be a target for product bans at the state and local levels.


Recycling is also getting attention at the federal level with RCRA reauthorization legislation pending in the House and the Senate. The Senate's draft from Montana's Max Baucus proposes that no less than 25% recycled material content will be allowed for plastic bottles by 1995 and no less than 65% for glass containers by 2005. The Senate's bill was criticized by the EPA for being "too prescriptive."

In a speech before the Senate Subcommittee on Environmental Protection, EPA Administrator William Reilly said, "The Administration is actively pursuing a goal of reducing solid waste by 25% by the year 2000 through source reduction and recycling. However, even with maximum recycling, we will continue, for the foreseeable future, to need incinerators and landfills to manage the remaining unrecycled materials...EPA believes this balance can be effectively achieved through market-based incentives, with existing regulatory authorities governing waste-management facilities, and nonregulatory initiatives, such as our 25% goal."

Reilly and CSWS's Lowman agree that communities are facing financial difficulties related to their recycling programs. "As communities become more aware of the real costs of recycling, they will have to deal with the problem of who pays," says Lowman. In 1992, 35 states are expected to have a fiscal deficit. In 1991, CSWS found that 155 proposals dealing with solid-waste tax and funding issues were proposed. Twenty of those were enacted.

Meanwhile, the House RCRA bill, drafted by Washington Rep. Al Swift, has also been stalled because, for one thing, its recycling goals have been deemed unrealistic by industry and legislators, subcommittee spokeswoman Midori Okazaki told PLASPEC. In order to make recycling work, packaging manufacturers must be guaranteed a steady supply of recycled materials, she said, so the House has tried to set mandated recycling goals.

"We are starting with recycling geared toward packaging because it is very visible," Okazaki said. "We hope further recycling (e.g., automotive) will be leveraged off of this bill."

But before Swift proposes a final bill to the House, more work will be done on the draft. Lewis Freeman, SPI's v.p. of federal government affairs, does not expect quick action on RCRA reauthorization. This being an election year, "Congress may feel it's too controversial to pass."


At the state level are many bills calling for environmental labeling guidelines. Abundant in 1991, similar bills are expected in 1992. In February, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was petitioned by a broad based of manufacturers and retailers to adopt nationally uniform guidelines on environmental claims in advertising and marketing. SPI is in favor of national guidelines to pre-empt a welter of state and local rules.

One key labeling issue is marketers' claims on recycled content. SPI's Freeman testified before the FTC, saying federal guidelines should make no distinction between post-consumer waste and industrial waste if the material reused otherwise would have been thrown away.

Another key issue is claims about "recyclability." Freeman cautioned FTC against restrictive guidelines. "Statements such as |recyclable where facilities exists' adequately advise the customer of the possible need to seek out information on the location of the nearest recycling facility for that particular product involved," he said.

EPA has proposed its own definitions for environmental marketing. When finalized, these guidelines will be recommended to FTC. Briefly, they include:

*Home scrap: scrap materials generated from, and commonly reused within, an original manufacturing process.

*Post-consumer materials: those products generated by a business or consumer that have served their intended end uses, and that have been recovered from the solid-waste stream for the purpose of recycling.

*Pre-consumer materials: those generated during any step in production of a product, and that have been recovered from or otherwise diverted from the solid-waste stream for recycling (does not include scrap materials).

*Recycled materials: pre-consumer materials and post-consumer materials. This does not include home scrap.

*Recyclables: products that can be recovered or diverted from the solidwaste stream for recycling.

*Recycled content: portion of a product's weight that is composed of pre-consumer and post-consumer materials.

*Recycle: a series of activities by which products are recovered from the solid-waste stream for use as raw materials in the manufacture of new products, other than fuel for producing heat or power by combustion.

*Recycling rate: the percentage by weight of a given product or material category that is recycled.

In November, SPI president Larry Thomas testified before EPA regarding these labeling proposals. "SPI is concerned that the term |recycled' is too narrowly defined to cover even current technology, much less technology that is still in the development phase. For instance, it would not cover tertiary recycling, which...involves recovery and return of plastics products to a raw-material state...SPI hopes that the term |recycled' will be defined in a way that will encourage needed innovation."

Thomas also noted an anomaly in EPA's definition of "home scrap": "Under the proposed definition, a company which collects |home scrap' for reuse in the original manufacturing process could not characterize this activity as |recycling.' If, however, the same company collects and physically transports the identical material to some third party, that party could make a |recycled' claim." Waste-minimization goals will be difficult to promote this way.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:1992 Regulatory Forecast, part 1
Author:Block, Debbie Galante
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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