Published On: Mon, Nov 7th, 2011

Plastic additives headed for a ‘breakdown’?

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That famous line from the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke” starring Paul Newman

describes the current situation surrounding additives that help petroleum-based plastics break down.

On one hand…

The Plastics Environmental Council (PEC) is pushing for a landfill biodegradation standard for petroleum- and natural gas-derived plastics that have been made with additives to help them break down. The group says use of these additives is “critically important to helping reduce the volume of plastic waste in landfills.”

On the other hand…

The National Assn of PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) says, “No, no, no.” It doesn’t want these additives used in PET, which has a working and profitable recycling business that would be ruined — really.

According to one PET recycler, Ed Byrne, CEO of Peninsula Packaging, who was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News: “Even in small percentages, like one-tenth of one percent, these are just catastrophic for us. They melt at different temperatures. They ruin our product.”

And on top of that condemnation, the state of California is not necessarily saying no as strongly as NAPCOR, but it, too, has issued a strong warning. If you’re going to promote use of these additives, they better work…or else.

On Oct. 26, 2011, the state’s attorney general filed suit against three companies that make plastic bottles or sell bottled water in California, saying those companies illegally claim the bottles — which are PET mixed with a microbial additive — are biodegradable. But, the AG contends, the claims can’t be scientifically supported. One of the besieged companies has already argued in its defense.

So. Where does all this leave the plastic packaging makers, users and recyclers?

Instead of at odds, the situation should encourage all involved to continue to talk, negotiate and perhaps compromise for the overall good.

Recycling as an end-of-life option fares much better in the U.S. than biodegradation. There’s money to be made in recycling. Where’s the payoff for biodegradation?

As long as there is a viable market for recycled material, that material should be recycled and re-used — not wasted away in whole or in teeny parts. Aren’t little pieces of garbage still garbage?

What do you think?


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