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Taxing new plastic would increase use of recycled material, says chemist

By Katie Bird , 25-Jun-2009
Last updated the 25-Jun-2009 at 11:15 GMT

Taxing virgin PET is one of the best ways to get companies to move over to using recycled material for plastic packaging, according to a green chemist.

The cost of using virgin material is so low that turning to reclaimed PET feedstock does not make economic sense for many companies, said Professor James Clark from the Green Chemistry Network.

Even if a country has a successful system that collects and sorts plastic waste, which is certainly not yet the case in all developed markets, it is costly and time consuming to make this into new products, he added.

Couple this with the low cost of making a new container from virgin PET and there are few incentives for a company to use recycled material.

Dennis Sabourin, the executive director of US association NAPCOR that promotes the use of PET packaging, confirmed that the use of virgin materials are lower in cost, but said taxes were not the answer.

“Virgin materials are lower in cost but if you are being judged by your retailer and the consumer on your credentials then the benefits to using reclaimed material will be significant,” he said.

In addition, he said over time the cost of using virgin material is likely to go up.

Oil prices likely to go up

“If we look at the price of oil I think we can say it is likely to go up over time, and we need to continue to increase the amount of material recycled so we are ready for that,” he said.

Furthermore, Sabourin claimed that the amount of material being recycled will one day reach a critical mass that will lead to manufacturing efficiencies and therefore lower the cost.

However, for Clark we may not have to wait until market conditions change to make recycled material a preferable option.

In addition, he suggested that the price of virgin material does not truly reflect the real costs.

Taking into account the environmental costs

It uses both less energy and produces less greenhouse gases to make a new PET container from recycled material than from virgin, a factor which according to Clark is not reflected in the price.

“We don’t price something on true cost, taking into example the environmental costs of a material. Taxing the virgin material could sort out this discrepancy and make the business of reusing and recovering economically interesting for all involved,” he said.

According to Napcor, in 2007, 5.68 billion pounds of PET packaging was produced in the US, of which 24.9 per cent was recycled.

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