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Regulatory outlook 1991: policing "recycle" claims.

Regulatory Outlook 1991: Policing "Recycle" Claims

The newest campaign of the "garbage police" seems to be regulating the use of the term "recycle" on packaging. It also looks like the hot regulatory issue for 1991 will be "environmentally acceptable labeling." Overall, solid-waste legislation will continue to be the number-one regulatory concern for the plastics industry into 1991.

In addition to solid-waste issues, worker safety, clean air and clean water regulations came to the forefront last year. PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY will confront those in the next issue.


Rod Lowman, v.p. of governmental affairs at SPI's Council for Solid Waste Solutions (CSWS) in Washington, D.C., told PLASTICS TECHNLOGY that definitions of "recycled" and "recyclable" will continue to be debated in 1991. CSWS is already working with the Federal Trade Commission and other industry groups to come up with a definition of environmentally acceptable labeling.

The issue of environmental labeling is further complicated by outside groups such as Green Cross Seal of Approval and Green Seal. "These labels are attractive for marketers because they are an unbiased source," says Joseph M. Pattock, SPI director of state government affairs. "But we may eventually still have to look to the government for a meeting point."

The Attorney General of California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin recently issued The Green Report: Findings and Preliminary Recommendations for Responsible Environmental Advertising, intended to spur development of a comprehensive regulator scheme for environmental advertising and reduce the growing number of misleading environmental marketing claims. The report is based on testimony and written comments presented by business leaders and environmental and consumer groups.

The intertestate task force calls on the FTC and EPA to work jointly with the states to develop uniform national standards for environmental marketing claims. In addition, they are being called on to provide interim guidance to the business community until more concrete definitions and standards are developed.


Last year, SPI's Pattock said he feared a trend would start if Massachusetts passed a packaging bill that would have mandated all packages to be composed of at least 50% recycled material and be reused at least five times. A similar bill was proposed in Oregon, where all packaging would have been required to meet one of three environmentally acceptable criteria to avoid being banned--reusable five times, containing 50% recycled content, or recycled at a rate of 50%. Both bills were knocked off the ballot. However, similar types of bills may pop up again this year.

Regulations on recycling emblems, which put material-content restrictions on product labeling have been passed in New York and Rhode Island. Although these rules do not say that all packages must be recycled, they do put restrictions on what packages can be labeled "recycled" or "recyclable."

In New York, a product labeled "recycled" must contain a minimum percentage by weight of recycled material content and/or post-consumer materials. Plastic products must have 50% recycled material content with 15% from post-consumer sources.

In Rhode Island, if a product is labeled "recycled" or "recycled content," it must also include a statement of percentage by weight of pre-consumer and post-consumer material.

Another rule that mandates recycled content was passed in California. According to Rod Miller, legislative director for Californians Against Waste and the original sponsor of the bill, beginning January 1, 1993, every trash bag sold in the state that is 1 mm or more thick must contain at least 10% post-consumer recycled film. Further, the law stipulates that beginning January 1, 1995, every trash bag sold that is 0.75 mm or more thick must contain 30% post-consumer recycle. These bags will be certified by the state Waste Management Board.


Materials coding bills and regulations for packaging ran rampant in 1990, with SPI's voluntary system prevailing. The industry has encouraged all states to adopt the same uniform system, and according to Lowman of CSWS, 27 states have passed a rule mandating SPI's codes or at least allowing them. They include: Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. A bill is still pending in Pennsylvania.

At the federal level, a plastics-container coding bill called "The Plastics Recycling Assistance Act" was introduced in the House of Representatives by Terry Bruce of Illinois last year. It calls for all plastic product manufacturers to code packages on or after January 1, 1992 using a uniform national identification system that sticks very close to SPI's system, except for adding an eighth code for degradability (see PT, Oct. '90, p. 120).

Also, Ohio Sen. John Glenn has introduced a provision to the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that calls for packagers to use SPI's code with an eighth category added to distinguish degradability. Another part of that proposal is modeled after Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore's bill that sets recycling targets and names specific materials to be targeted as part of that program.



Overall, in 1990 the number of taste solid-waste bills affecting the plastics industry increased 36% over 1989, according to a 1990 roundup provided by CSWS. "Ninety-one state proposals dealing with plastics in the waste stream were adopted by 33 states during 1990," says Lowman.

Twenty-seven states enacted more than 65 recycling laws during the first five months of 1990, according to a study released by the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. A total of 30 states and the District of Columbia now have comprehensive recycling laws, which require detailed recycling plans and/or separation of recyclables, and which contains one or more other provisions to stimulate recycling. According to the study, 26 states have set recycling goals.

Degradable plastics bills lost some of their fire in 1990. "New bills mandating biodegradable packaging decreased 89%. Research into the landfill environment has helped convince legislators that bills mandating degradable packaging do not contribute to solid-waste solutions and may be counterproductive by complicating recycling," says Lowman.

Instead, pilot plastics recycling programs are beginning to spread. After a six-month pilot plastics recycling program in Hennepin County, Minn., CSWS concluded that a two-phase program, beginning with collection of all plastic bottles and expanding to all rigid containers could be implemented in 1991. A CSWS statement says, "Pilot program research determined that Hennepin County's residents are willing and eager to recycle the maximum amount of plastics." Collection of all plastic bottles could begin as soon as Spring 1991, to be expanded to all rigid containers contingent on contract negotiations between cities reclaimers and end users. "This comprehensive pilot program has confirmed that the County's plastics can be effectively and economically recycled. Long-term commitment to markets is the key."


The trend away from plastics bans in favor of recycling plans, which began to take shape last year, is in full swing. Popularity of bans is on the wane because "bans do not do anything for the environment," says Lowman.

Suffolk County, N.Y., had passed a plastics ban, but it was overturned in March 1990 because a mandated environmental impact statement was not done by the county. Although a county legislator told PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY it was likely to be resubmitted, Lowman says CSWS has been working with local businesses to implement recycling and expects the ban to be overturned if resubmitted. "We've received calls from other municipalities asking for help in setting up plastics recycling programs," he said.

Connecticut in 1990 prohibited municipalities from banning the use or sale of PS packaging products if local vendors, commercial users, or retail users demonstrated that they were actively engaged in efforts to recycle PS packaging.

In Wisconsin, local product bans and taxes were preempted in favor of a comprehensive recycling law. The law imposes bans on landfilling or incineration of all recyclable waste, including PS. However, municipalities are allowed a variance for PS if they show that the cost of processing the material for sale exceeds $40/ton or the cost of disposing it.

However, despite a reprieve on PS bans, Lowman expects to see some PVC bans proposed in the future as chlorine concerns begin to spread. Anti-PVC sentiment is continuing to spread through Europe. Switzerland has reportedly banned PVC packaging and Austria is considering it.


In 1990, of the 121 funding and punitive tax proposals considered, no packaging tax bills were enacted into law. But Lowman expects to see more packaging tax proposals in 1991. In particular he expects legislators will call for deposits on detergent bottles like those on beverage bottles. Lowman says the plastic industry would not oppose those taxes or surcharges if they actually went toward establishing waste-management programs, but he fears that because state budgets are hurting, the revenues would be used elsewhere.
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Title Annotation:use of terms such as "recycled" on packaging; other news
Author:Block, Debbie Galante
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:McDonald's move jolts PS recycling but won't halt numerous ventures.
Next Article:Recycling will be a new theme at SPI composites expo.

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