The Plastic Redesign Project
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PROJECT OVERVIEW

Background
Goals, Strategies and Objectives
Who's Involved?
Cooperation with Other Groups
Project History


Background

The Plastic Redesign Project is a coalition of government agencies and regional associations dedicated to strengthening the economics of local plastics recycling programs.

Plastics packaging is experiencing a wave of innovation and expansion into new markets. New packaging technologies are under development, like barrier PET beer bottles, that could significantly impact the nation's plastic recycling infrastructure. Uncertainties about these new bottles include: How will they change the composition of the plastic bottle stream? Will they increase sorting or other processing costs? Will they impact the demand for, and value of, recovered plastics? What will the net impact on local recycling revenues be? The Plastic Redesign Project seeks objective answers to these questions and encourages industry to voluntarily address them as they design new packages.

The project is guided by the principle that by sharing information and working cooperatively, voluntary solutions can be found that meet the needs of product producers while strengthening recycling programs.


Goal, Strategies and Objectives

The Project's primary goal is to strengthen the economics of local plastics recycling programs. Because of a proliferation of new packaging designs with uncertain recycling impacts, the project focuses on promoting voluntary design-for-recycling efforts. We pursue our goal through three complementary strategies:

  1. Researching and disseminating objective information about plastic packaging trends and recycling economics to government, consumer products companies and other interested parties;
  2. Promoting voluntary commitments by consumer product companies to design plastics packaging that meets their business needs while reducing recycling collection & processing costs and maximizing recycled material market values; and
  3. Promoting voluntary commitments by consumer product companies to incrementally increase the recycled content of their plastics packaging in a manner that increases demand and price for recycled plastic while minimizing market disruptions.

The project provides information in a variety of ways. It is most visible to its members through a closed list serve used to provide frequent updates on plastics packaging trends, issues, analyses and initiatives. Other activities include economic and market research, conference presentations, preparing articles and reports, and aggressively networking with manufacturing representatives and other stakeholders. Current efforts are focused on evaluating emerging PET "barrier" beer bottle technologies and assessing increasing levels of recycled content in plastic bottles. Past efforts include analyzing pigmented HDPE dairy packaging and developing design-for-recycling guidelines with input from city and industry representatives.

Objectives for the coming year include:


Who's Involved?

The Plastic Redesign Project is managed by Peter Anderson, Principal, Recycle Worlds Consulting. Cunsultants to the project have included Tom Tomazak of Plastic Solutions & Associates and Professor Randy Fortenberry of the University of Wisconsin, Department of Applied Economics. Project members also play an active role in guiding the project and reviewing reports and analyses, primarily via the Internet and occasional conference calls. Current members include the Southwest Public Recycling Association, the Mid-America Council of Recycling Officials, the Mid-Continent Recycling Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Kentucky Recycling and Marketing Assistance Program, Portland Metro Regional Environmental Management, the Association of Oregon Recyclers, the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority and the Florida Department of Natural Resources. New state and local members are being recruited.

Project funding currently comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Integrated Waste Management Board. Past funders include the New York State Office of Recycling Market Development, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Recycling Market Development Board.


Cooperation with Other Groups

Other groups are also pursuing similar goals as the Plastic Redesign Project. One of the most important groups is the Association of Post-Consumer Plastics Recyclers (APR). Its members include plastics reclaimers (some of which also manufacture packaging and/or virgin plastics), and its meetings provide a venue for plastics reclaimers and manufacturing industry representatives to share information. Through its Champions for Change Program, APR has successfully encouraged producers like Miller Beer to cooperatively research the recyclability of new packaging technologies. Other industry groups involved in plastics recycling include the National Association for PET Container Resources, the American Plastics Council. An environmental group, the Grassroots Recycling Network, has also been very active on plastics recycling issues.

The Plastic Redesign Project is distinguished from other organizations involved in plastics design for recycling issues because it is focused on advocating for the interests of government recycling programs. Local and state governments have invested millions in recycling programs and are responsible for operating local services and strengthening markets. And yet, their voice has largely been absent from industry debates over packaging design.

The Project is establishing cooperative working relationships with APR, manufacturing representatives and others. For example, since September 1999, project representatives have met monthly with leaders of the APR and have participated in APR meetings. Project representatives have made presentations at important packaging conferences like Novapak, Bev-Pak and Pack Expo, and have been asked to comment for articles in the Wall Street Journal, Plastics News and other publications. APR and manufacturing industry representatives have provided research data to the project and have participated in PRP hosted events.


Project History

The Plastic Redesign Project was established in 1994 as the City/Industry Plastic Bottle Redesign Project. During this phase, a group of city and industry representatives agreed on 13 win-win design-for-recycling principles that were feasible for industry and important for improving the economics of plastics recycling community programs. The participating organizations included:

Cities Industry
Dallas Avery Dennison
Jacksonville Johnson Control
Milwaukee Owens-Illinois
New York Procter & Gamble
San Diego SC Johnson Wax
Seattle St. Jude Polymer

In 1997 the project reorganized as a coalition, with seven organizations representing a total of 32 states committed to the project. The organizations included the Northeast Recycling Council, the Southwest Public Recycling Association, the Mid-America Council of Recycling Officials, the Mid-Continent Recycling Association, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Florida Department of Natural Resources. The project members first updated and published the design recommendations and then met with manufacturing companies to encourage them to incorporate the design recommendations into their specifications that they issue to their packaging vendors. Three companies agreed in concept with the design recommendations (Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson and Avery Denison), and several others are interested in further exploring them. The project also released a report analyzing recycling concerns associated with a trend toward pigmented HDPE milk jugs.

The project is currently expanding its membership to include a larger number of state and local recycling agencies.


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