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.