UPDATE: California Plastics' Recycling Rate Falters

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. - The percentage of plastic recycled in 1996 fell below California state minimum standards, according to the Integrated Waste Management Board. The Board found that the recycling rate for all plastic containers covered under the law (packaging for such products as soda bottles, milk jugs and laundry detergent) was 23.2 percent in 1996, falling just under the minimum standard of 25 percent. The Board also determined that the recycling rate for polyethylene terephtha-late (PETE), the plastic used in soda bottles, was 35.9 percent.

"Although I know that the recycled plastics market is depressed and that prices for recycled plastic have been cut in half in the last two years, [the fact remains that] the recycling rate is below the minimum required by law," says Daniel G. Pennington, Board chairman.

Simply mandating recycling will not help California reach its goals of cutting its solid waste in half by 2000. Instead, sustainable private sector markets must be encouraged so that recyclable materials will be seen as commodities, not trash, Pennington says.

Because the recycling rate does not meet the minimum standards, the Board will determine in coming months what further steps need to be taken. Possible actions may include requiring product manufacturers to certify how they complied with the law. Other available compliance options include requiring containers to be made with 10 percent less material, be reusable or refillable, or contain a minimum 25 percent post-consumer material.

In 1995, the PETE recycling rate was 38.8 percent, while the all-container rate was determined to be in a range of 23.3 percent to 25.9 percent.

Currently, California's total diversion rate is at an all-time high of 30 percent, exceeding the national average for the first time.