Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Design Plastics for Recyclability

The article ``Putting Plastics to Use a Second Time Around,'' Oct. 18, may have left readers with a much rosier view than is warranted. While the American Plastics Council is spending millions to convince the public that plastics recycling is growing rapidly, its own statistics tell a different story. Plastics recycling has stalled out: Recycling rates for all major types of plastic showed no significant gains between 1992 and 1993. With its overall rate hovering at less than 7 percent, recycling of plastics trails every other major material: glass, steel, aluminum, and paper. And most plastic packaging is riding on the coattails of the industry's only recycling success stories: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soda bottles (41 percent recovered) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk jugs (24 percent recovered); recovery of all other types of plastic is stuck at 1 to 2 percent.

While the article correctly indicates that poor economics and sorting difficulties are key reasons for the stall-out, the industry has resisted implementing some straightforward solutions. One example: Consumer product manufacturers persist in using multiple types of containers for the same product. Efforts to recycle such ``look-alike'' packaging are doomed to failure.

About these ads

Makers and users of plastic have yet to learn to work together to close the loop and put recovered plastics into the mainstream of production - by designing for recyclability. Instead, plastics recycling has been sidelined - and the numbers show it. Richard A. Denison Washington Environmental Defense Fund