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Plastics industry leaders urge recyclers to step up, get involved

By: Don Loepp

March 20, 2013

Recyclers can be playing a bigger role in letting a skeptical public know about plastics' environmental advantages.

That's part of the message delivered March 19 to a major meeting of plastics recyclers in New Orleans. The speakers were Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., and Steve Russell, head of the American Chemistry Council's plastics division.

In response to a question about the plastics industry's image problem and how recycling — one of the fastest-growing plastics sectors — can help, Carteaux jumped at the opportunity to say how recyclers can help combat some of the misinformation and "junk science" that dog plastics.

"When is the last time you had a Congressman or a Senator visit your facility?" he asked the crowd at the Plastics Recycling 2013 conference, sponsored by Resource Recycling Inc. "When was the last time you wrote a letter to Mayor Bloomberg when he tried to ban foam polystyrene?"

Russell added: "There's an issue here, and we need your voice."

After the session, both industry leaders spoke about the critical role that plastics recyclers can play to help set the record straight about plastics.

"It is our experience that policymakers who have been the most vocal critics of plastics have consistently been told that plastics recycling is a myth," Russell said. "It is critically important [for recyclers] to speak up."

Carteaux told the recyclers that SPI and ACC has been holding regular meetings with the Canadian Plastics Industry Association with an aim to speaking with a single voice on critical issues.

Some other key points in their talk:

  • Carteaux made a plug for recyclers to join SPI's Operation Clean Sweep.
  • He said the industry is spending "in excess of $5 million" to defend against bag bans — a figure that was cited several times by other speakers at the conference, often in the context of what they could do with that sort of funding to encourage more plastics recycling.
  • Carteaux said 72 municipalities have bag bans, but — to date— there are no statewide bans. He highlighted that there are 19,000 U.S. municipalities that have not restricted plastic bag use.
  • Russell touched on efforts that ACC is supporting to get New York City to rethink Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban polystyrene foodservice packaging. Part of their strategy is to make sure City Council members know that the material is recyclable, and that there are recyclers in the NYC-area who want the city's polystyrene.
  • Russell said the issue of marine debris is serious, and something that keeps him up at night. But he added: "We're not going to ban our way to a cleaner ocean," and he highlighted international plastics industry efforts to prevent litter and promote a proper approach to plastics waste management, including recycling.
  • Carteaux talked about the positive impact that shale gas is having on the U.S. economy, specifically the plastics industry. He said SPI is helping to sponsoring a report that will come out later this year that will include detailed information about the impact of shale-gas on plastics.

Carteaux also wore a colorful orange golf shirt made from recycled PET. He said the plastics industry trade associations have licensed a company to make shirts and other products from recycled materials under the name Resin Gear.

Companies that buy Resin Gear products will be able to highlight the recycling message, and a portion of the proceeds will go to support the industry's efforts, he said.