Will Somebody Please Grab-a-Hold of This Issue!

Posted on 9/4/2012 2:32:58 PM By Jeff Timm

The increased attention to recycling from all points in the value chain-consumers, brand owners, convertors, packaging component suppliers and resin manufacturers, is critically important as sustainability casts a larger and larger net over all aspects of packaging.  Adhesive suppliers should take note of the trends in recycling, as they play a vital role in ensuring that adhesives used with all types of plastic packaging are compatible with the respective recycling processes. 

This is why I was dismayed recently by the conflicting press releases and trade journal articles/letters from five of the biggest trade groups in the plastic industry over a set of new educational guidelines issued to enhance plastics recycling education.  This controversy started with the proposed Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) with funding support from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) “education without the numbers” guidelines which put forth the concept of recycling all plastic articles as a single group and sorting them based on six categories, with specific descriptive graphics explaining each, rather than by plastic resin material.  Because of the controversy the APR guidelines generated within the recycle community these guidelines have been pulled by the APR since being issued on July 31, 2012.  

The sorting categories were:

• All plastic bottles
• Plastic bottles and containers (such as tubs with lids) -- but no thermoformed packaging
• All plastic bottles and containers
• Clean rigid plastics -- no bags, no foam
• All clean plastics with bags and film wraps bundled
• All clean plastics, no bags and film wrap

These categories in essence de-emphasize the traditional ASTM chasing arrow resin identification code (RIC) number designation found on most plastic items.


Herein lays the controversy!  In a position statement to the plastics industry on August 17, 2012 Dennis Sabourin, Executive Director of National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) discussed how his association felt about the elimination of the ASTM RICs and the lumping of all plastic recycling together leaving “false impressions” and conclusions about non-PET plastic resins having equal economics and recycling practicality when recycled.  “While the campaign’s overarching goal of making plastic recycling easier for consumers is laudable, it does not recognize the practical reality of plastics recycling or the ramifications of collecting plastic resins that have no reliable, domestic markets,” Sabourin stated.  He goes on to say that the PET recycling industry has built their infrastructure by “asking consumers to look for No. 1 PET bottles and jars.”  One would have thought the APR should have collaborated with NAPCOR on this project since they both deal with PET bottle recycling...apparently not.

It’s not over yet.  On August 24, 2012 the North American Plastic Alliance—SPI-the plastics Industry Trade Association, American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) issued a position statement in a letter to Plastic News stating “we respectively take issue with the general thrust” of the NAPCOR position statement.  They said “we do not believe an approach to recycling that focuses on only one resin will help achieve the long-term goals of the overall plastic industry”.  This North American Plastic Alliance response has the added confusing element of having the ACC as one of its alliance members.  The ACC helped fund the initial effort by APR that started this whole mess in the first place!

I know major goals of all the above associations and alliances are the health and well being of the plastic industry.  That is why I’m continually amazed at the dysfunction in an industry I have worked in for 40 years over an activity-- recycling plastics-- that has existed since plastics first entered the marketplace in mass in the 50’s and 60’s.  While the North American Plastic Alliance promotes the “one voice, one vision” mantra it appears they need to bring more plastic recycling stakeholders into the alliance to broaden their voice or modify their vision.

I am all for anything that can increase plastic recycle rates, educate consumers, improve recycle sorting techniques/technologies and by nature of these improvements increase brand owners packaging design to facilitate recycling.  However, the controversy that these guidelines have caused creates another black-eye for the plastics industry.  At a time when everyone wants to blame the plastic industry for much of what is wrong with the environment one ‘talking point’ on plastic recycling should be the objective.  Instead we have multiple sources posturing to distance themselves from these “education without the numbers” guidelines.  Are the guidelines a good idea?  What do you think?

All viable solutions need to have their light-of-day and be part of the broader national and global policy formation on plastic recycling.  There are dramatic examples of collaborative effort between NAPCOR and APR in developing the ‘Protocol for Evaluating PET Thermoform Labels and Adhesives for Compatibility with PET Recycling’ ( in conjunction with the Adhesive & Sealant Council (ASC) and the adhesive industry. Another player we need to hear from on this issue is ASTM. They are the owner of the plastic resin identification code (RIC) system, ASTM D7611/D7611M- Standard Practice for Coding Plastic Manufactured Articles for Resin Identification, originally initiated by SPI. Also do not forget to include the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) as they have also produced many outstanding positions and reference materials on plastic recycling.

Please people get your collective acts together and solve this issue before others outside our plastics family-resin suppliers, converters, recyclers and plastic end-users/brand owners decide our issues for us.

NOTE:  The views and opinions expressed in the ASC Packaging Blog are solely those of the blog author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Adhesive & Sealant Council (ASC).

Groups mentioned in this blog:
Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR)

American Chemistry Council (ACC)

National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR)

SPI-the Plastics Industry Trade Association

Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA)

Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC)

NAPCOR Position Statement

Plastics News article:  Campaign Aims to Educate Consumers on Plastics Recycling

ASTM D7611/D7611M- Standard Practice for Coding Plastic Manufactured Articles for Resin Identification   

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