In an effort to mitigate consumer confusion and help maintain the integrity of recyclable materials streams, three laws proposed in North Carolina and Alabama would require containers made from biodegradable or compostable plastic to be labeled “non-recyclable,” according to Plastics News.
Filed in March, the proposed laws would prevent any plastic containers sold or distributed in those states from being labeled compostable, biodegradable or degradable unless the container is also clearly marked "not recyclable, do not recycle." Alabama’s proposed law would also require containers to comply with the FTC's Green Guides before claiming to be compostable, biodegradable or degradable. If passed, the laws would go into effect on July 1, 2014.
The laws would cover resins containing degradable additives, and compostable bioresins such as polylactic acid, and protect the Southeast’s rapidly growing recycling industry. About 60 recycling facilities in the Southeast contribute $3 billion in value to the domestic economy, according to the Southeast Recycling Development Council Inc., a nonprofit coalition of 11 states including North Carolina and Alabama. Manufacturing businesses that depend on recycled plastic feedstock to make consumer-ready goods account for over 6,000 jobs in the region, according to the report.
Conflicting messages of compostability, degradability and recyclability can confuse consumers, creating more problems for recyclers, Scott Mouw, state recycling program director in North Carolina, told Plastics News.
"The public is very confused about plastic bottle recycling, about recycling in general, so clarity is really important," he said.
Older technologies, such as degradable plastics and bioplastics, can be confused for standard plastics and contaminate the recycling streams of various polymers.
Mouw said the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, based in Raleigh, took an in-depth look at degradable plastics. According to the Southeast Recycling Development Council, degradable additives prevent resin from being reliably recycled and reused, and are not helpful for reducing marine debris or controlling litter. The department also talked with reclaimers and recyclers in the region, many of which had serious concerns about degradable plastics, including their ability to detect it in the recycling stream and the costs of accommodating degradable material. The hope is that by alerting consumers to the non-recyclability of degradable plastics, the proposed laws will help reduce the amount of contamination of recycled materials streams.
Last month, GreenBlue announced the successful completion of the soft launch phase of its How2Recycle labeling system, the only existing labeling system for packaging that gives consumers explicit directions to influence their recycling behavior, and specifies when a package component is not recyclable. As of March, 12 major brands are using the label, including Kellogg, Yoplait, Esteé Lauder, Best Buy and Clorox.