Indiana recycling advocates fight back

Indiana recycling advocates fight back

By Henry Leineweber, Resource Recycling

Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of stakeholders, recycling funding may soon be restored in Indiana, but those hoping for a container deposit law or other recycling initiative still face an uphill battle.

On the surface, these are not good times for recycling in the Hoosier State. Statewide budget cuts in 2009 under then-Governor Mitch Daniels froze 90 percent of Indiana's recycling fund, with the 50-cents per ton landfill disposal fee instead used to shore up state's general revenues. Lawmakers later allowed some recycling goals for the state to expire. Additionally, Republican supermajorities in both the Indiana House and Senate would seemingly dash any hope of legislation favorable to recycling. But while time is running out for the General Assembly to introduce and act on recycling legislation before it adjourns April 29, many companies, organizations and other stakeholders are urging elected officials to do just that.

A hearing held Monday by the General Assembly's joint environmental committees outlined the detrimental impact the state's low recycling rate has on both the environment and local businesses.

"There's not enough scrap plastic in Indiana to feed our plant, let alone grow it," said Perpetual Recycling Solutions CEO David Bender to the assembled lawmakers.

Perpetual Recycling Solutions, which recently completed a large PET recycling plant in the state, is one of the companies that is calling for the legislature to take steps to improve recycling, citing estimates of nearly $60 million worth of recyclable materials being dumped in Indiana landfills annually, due to lack of adequate recycling service. Improving recycling in the state, they argue, would create jobs and provide other economic benefits.

"In 2011, Perpetual Recycling Solutions leveraged a $50,000 recycling grant along with a $30 million investment in a new PET plastic processing facility in Richmond. We have already created 75 jobs and hope to expand. However, expansion requires Indiana to capture more of its PET plastic feedstock," Bender said in an accompanying statement to Governor Mike Pence.

The Indiana Recycling Coalition has requested Governor Pence reinstate the recycling fund at a level of $3.2 million per year, which according to IRC executive director Carey Hamilton, may soon be restored.

"We were thrilled with the positive comments we got from the Governor's Office," said Hamilton in an interview with Plastics Recycling Update.  "We found out [April 4th] that the budget that has just passed out of committee includes our funding request.  Now we just need to work to make sure it's included in the final budget."

In addition to Perpetual Recycling, IRC's call for a reinstatement of recycling funds was aided by some important supporters.

Aluminum giant Alcoa, which employs 3,200 in Indiana, showed up in support, with Beth Schmitt, director of recycling for the company saying, "Alcoa strongly supports this request to reinstate Indiana's recycling fund. Recycling is both an environmental and business priority for our company. We believe that new investments in recycling programs and infrastructure will result in higher aluminum recycling rates which in turn will save energy, save resources and create jobs."

In testifying before the committee, Stephen Segebarth, a vice president for the North American division of multinational glass container giant Verallia, went so far as to advocate for a bottle bill in the state, explaining that bottles manufactured at the company's Dunkirk, Indiana site use only 15-20 percent recycled glass cullet, and that most of that material is sourced from container deposit programs in Michigan and Canada. The entire glass industry in the state employs approximately 1,600 workers.

Other recycling supporters echoed the desire for container deposit legislation in the state. A representative from Ball State University's Bowen Center for Public Affairs cited new findings from the university that show more than 70 percent of Indiana residents support a potential bottle bill — with that support rising to over 90 percent for those residents between ages 18-24.

Support also came from the Indiana Farm Bureau, which urged a container deposit bill or other recycling action that would help keep bottle and container litter out of farm machinery.

However, others in attendance were opposed to any type of bottle bill. The American Beverage Association, along with representatives from the grocery and retail industry, testified that beverage containers only account for 7 percent of the waste stream, and that stores wouldn't tolerate such a program.

Other elected representatives in attendance hardly warmed to the idea of new recycling efforts by the state.

"I don't like mandates, bans and bottle bills. My goal is to find some way to make recycling happen without a bottle bill," said House Environmental Affairs chairman David Wolkins (R-Warsaw), although he added he's now gone "from adamantly opposed to just opposed."

While Indiana's recycling funding may soon be restored, further action to improve recycling in the state faces an uphill battle.  Sources tell Plastics Recycling Update that the legislature will likely create a study committee to focus on new recycling ideas while the rest of the General Assembly is adjourned, and that all recycling options, including a container deposit program, could be considered.  The Indiana General Assembly adjourns April 29 and will reconvene next January.

"We're very pleased with the broad support for recycling we're seeing right now," says Hamilton.  "Our next step is to work with these stakeholders to find common ground on a recycling plan we can all be happy with."

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