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U.S. recycles plastics at record rates.

The plastics industry has announced a significant increase in the U.S. recycling rate for plastics in 1991 but has urged consumers and manufacturers to request more recycled products to "jump start" the sluggish market demand for recycled materials.

Plastic soft drink bottles were recycled at a rate of 36% in 1991, up from 30% in 1990, according to The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) and the Partnership for Plastics Progress. About 14% of all plastic bottles, including soft drink, milk, detergent, shampoo, and ketchup, were recycled last year, up from 9% the previous year. All plastic bottles and containers combined, including margarine tubs and yogurt cups, for example, were recycled at a rate of 11%, up from 7% in 1990.

The plastics industry's goal is to have a majority of Americans recycling the equivalent of 25% of all plastic bottles and containers by the end of 1995. This goal was established by SPI's former Council for Solid Waste Solutions.

Despite the dramatic expansion in plastics recycling programs, current markets for most recycled materials, including plastics, glass, paper, and aluminum, are experiencing their deepest recession in years. Recycling Times has reported that market prices paid by processors for virtually every recyclable scrap plummeted in recent months. "The embryonic plastics recycling industry has been hit particularly hard by the recession," said J. Roger Hirl, president and chief executive officer of Occidental Chemical Corp. and chairperson of the Partnership's board of directors. "However, we will weather this storm and remain committed to recycling." He explained that the industry is "aggressively building plants, developing new technology, and working to stimulate new markets to overcome the remaining barriers."

According to Hirl, "More than 2300 communities now include plastics in their curbside recycling programs, and if you include buy-back and drop-off programs, the total is more than 4400 communities. But there's a long way to go before the demand side of the recycling equation is resolved for all recyclable materials. Consumers have the power to help provide stability to recycling markets by requesting and buying more items made from recycled materials."

Consumer products available today that use recycled plastic include soft drink and salad dressing bottles, carpet and fiberfill (made from recycled soft drink bottles); grocery bags and detergent and fabric softener bottles (made from recycled milk jugs); trash bags, recycling bins, and trash cans (made from recycled detergent bottles); and video cassettes, office accessories, egg cartons, and clamshells (made from recycled foam cups and containers). In addition, a variety of commercial products, such as traffic cones and barricades, building partitions, and marine pilings, are currently available.

Hirl says that there are more than 120 companies now reclaiming post-consumer plastics. To support the growth of plastics recycling, a number of major U.S. corporations have expanded their post- consumer plastics recycling capabilities. For example, during the past year, Phillips Petroleum Co., Quantum Chemical Corp., and Union Carbide Corp. have opened major recycling plants, capable of processing up to 40 million lbs of plastics each, in Oklahoma, Ohio, and New Jersey, respectively.

Through its "Blueprint for Plastics Recycling" program, the plastics industry has provided counseling and technical assistance--with manuals, workshops, and a toll-free information line, (800) 2-HELP-90--to hundreds of communities seeking to implement plastics recycling programs. In addition, the Partnership is sponsoring dozens of research projects to help improve the economics of recycling and speed development of new technology.
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Publication:Plastics Engineering
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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