Marylanders who are ecology-conscious but buy products in plastic containers have some good news:Empty two-liter soda bottles are more easily recycled today than they were a year ago.
But, while those who recycle their plastic bottles may take pride in knowing they are diverting some wastes from landfills, there are some plastics they still can't recycle.
Workers at area recycling centers are turning away people who bring such containers as margarine tubs, packages for baby wipes and yogurt cups. There is no facility in the area that can process those items -- at least not yet. Collection centers can accept only bottles.
"The initial thought was plastic is plastic," said William G. Burroughs, director of strategic planning for Polysource Mid-Atlantic Inc. "Most plastics are recyclable, if there's a processor, but there aren't processors here for all plastic recyclables."
Burroughs' company owns the only facility in the Baltimore area that processes recycled plastics. It turns discarded plastic bottles for soda, detergent, shampoo and other consumer products into pellets that it sells to major plastic users such as Procter & Gamble.
Burroughs said different methods are used to produce narrow-neck bottles and margarine tubs. And different methods must be used to process them for recycling because they break down at different temperatures when melted.
Polysource, which processes most of the state's recycled plastics at its plant in Rosedale, does not have equipment that can melt down containers with wide rims, he said. If too many undesirable plastics enter the processor, they can contaminate the batch.
In recent months, Polysource has been telling companies and counties from which it buys plastics not to bring items it cannot melt. Burroughs said it was costing too much to sort them out of the process.
"Our approach is, if it's a plastic bottle we will accept it," Burroughs said.
Linda Fields, administrator of Howard County's recycling program, said she has passed that message along to those who bring their spent containers to county collection centers.
"We're telling them to bring only post-consumer plastic bottles," Field said. "Things such as milk jugs, soda bottles, laundry and dish detergent bottles, bottles for shampoo and conditioners."
Although a bottle containing liquid laundry detergent may seem every bit as strong as a baby wipe container, the bottle is made from a different chemical composition, Burroughs explained.
That composition allows it to be molded differently from the wide-rim containers when it is made. It has a lower viscosity and melts at a lower temperature.
"It's not how a bottle appears when it's cold and you're using it," Burroughs said. "It's how it appears when it's at a high temperature."