North Carolina: Recycling Law Detracts from Composting Efforts

by Luke on August 19, 2013

I’ve blogged about the dire need for improved recycling technology in MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities) on a more ubiquitous scale nationally.  A new piece of legislation in North Carolina further demonstrates the need for that in a major way.

North Carolina recently enacted legislation that would prohibit the sale or distribution of rigid plastic containers, including plastic beverage containers like cups, labeled “compostable” (or other words suggesting the container will biodegrade) unless it also states the additional new required statement “Not Recyclable, Do Not Recycle.”  That legislation goes into effect July 1, 2014.

Why is this crazy?  It means that companies that sell certified compostable containers and cups will now have to add additional text on the containers or they will be in defiance of the law.

That’s incredibly difficult for a manufacturer to do for just one state.  If every state had different labeling requirements, which it seems like that is the way recycling is heading unfortunately, it would create massive problems for product manufacturers.  The net effect is increased product costs for consumers and businesses.

I understand why North Carolina is taking this measure.  Some people in the North Carolina recycling industry are worried that compostable products are contaminating the recycled plastic stream.  Their solution is to hopefully educate consumers through this additional text.

What this text also does is put a negative term (“Do Not Recycle”) on a product that, in fact, does have a positive recycling option – organics recycling (a.k.a. composting)!

I also foresee this bill hindering the tremendous progress that North Carolina is making on composting thanks to companies like CompostNow.  If manufacturers remove “compostable” text from cups for fear of being fined, that will create huge challenges for composting facilities.  Composters want and need compostable labeling on containers.

The real solution to the problem of recycling contamination, North Carolina’s reason for enacting the bill, is better recycling technology.  If more MRFs were using optical sorting technology, they could sort the different plastic types mechanically as opposed to manually.

I realize that most MRFs don’t have the capital to invest hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars into better equipment.  The problem is that recycling is so fragmented with different laws in every state, or even municipality, that MRFs and recycling coordinators are now coming up with solutions that don’t solve the root problem and end up causing multiple subsequent problems.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t soda mfg already have to do multiple “Refund Value” labels for different states? In California it’s called CRV but I’m not sure in other states. I’m not saying I agree with doing different labels (I agree it’s a royal pain and ads cost to the packaging) but it is done already.

    • Luke

      You’re correct that manufacturers have to list multiple refund values for different states. What they do is just list all of the states on the bottles. Each state doesn’t ask them to put completely different messaging on the bottles in addition to the “5 cents in CA, MI, etc.” or whatever it is. With the NC requirement of a longer message like “not degradable” and other states (i.e. Vermont) also requiring different labeling for compostable vs recyclable products, it will get very complicated for manufacturers and lead to higher costs. I see the state’s intentions, but the solution they have developed is laden with issues.

  • Sandrarnyc

    Very good information on this blog. Thank you for making it available.

  • Steve Canford

    I work for a large foodservice distribution company that sells eco-products and the biggest issue I have is that all the products are made in Asia. I don’t get why a green company wants to make green products in Asia and hurt the American worker. I hope the WNA management team can see beyond the lies the Eco-Crap team has been spreading for years. It is about time we take back America and start making products domestically and not in Asia no matter how green or un-green the products are.

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