I recently received this interesting note from Bill Sheehan, Executive Director of the Product Policy Institute based in Athens, Georgia, on a report cited by the Plastics Recycling Update Newsletter. First is his editorial comment and then the newsletter item. This should be of interest to anyone comparing single- and two-stream recycling with concerns about the quality of material gathered. Writes Sheehan:
“The problem is curbside collection … By contrast, deposit systems or take-back systems can generate displacement rates of around 70 percent. Why? Because they have a much cleaner, purer collection stream that needs a lot less processing to make it into rPET. So, what we’ve said is either do it right (e.g., by using a system that collects high-quality material) or don’t bother.”
Related fact: Plastic packaging accounts for a third of the system cost ($55 million) but only 6.1% of the tons managed in the Ontario Blue Box curbside program (the program with the best data). Now here’s the newsletter item:
From Plastics Recycling Update Newsletter 8/13/2010
1 Report questions sustainability of PET recycling
If you live in a country that doesn’t have an adequate recycling infrastructure, a new report from SRI Consulting says you’re probably better off just throwing away PET bottles and containers.
“The problem is curbside collection,” explains the study’s principal researcher, Eric Johnson, in an e-mail to Resource Recycling. “Collection rates can actually be pretty high [in Europe]. The German Green-Dot system collected about 80 percent of the PET bottles, but only about half of that quantity ended up displacing virgin PET. Sorting, washing, processing and so on loses a lot of material. By contrast, deposit systems or take-back systems can generate displacement rates of around 70 percent. Why? Because they have a much cleaner, purer collection stream that needs a lot less processing to make it into rPET. So, what we’ve said is either do it right (e.g., by using a system that collects high-quality material) or don’t bother (e.g., landfill it), which generates a similar footprint at lower cost.”
The study gauged sustainability of different waste management and reclamation methods by calculating the cradle-to-grave carbon emissions of products on each disposal trajectory. This analysis yielded some surprising results for the researchers, including the counter-intuitive finding that shipping bales over long distances had little impact on carbon emissions.
“Transport by ship and barge does affect the footprint, but not significantly, even when you send the bales to China (as is pretty common, from Europe),” says Johnson. “Transport by truck, for far less distance, makes more of a difference.”
Overall, the study concludes that, for places without the geography and/or infrastructure to support it, recycling of PET actually has a higher carbon footprint than landfill. No doubt the report’s controversial findings will be scrutinized closely when it is released in full. To read the accompanying release, or to contact representatives from SRI Consulting, click here… Here is Bill Sheehan’s contact info:
Bill Sheehan • Executive Director
Product Policy Institute
P.O. Box 48433 • Athens, GA 30604 • USA
706-613-0710 • email@example.com
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