Just when I was settling comfortably into the rocker of plastic recycling's retirement - KABOOM! - I read Roger King's March 13 column, ``Don't throw more money at recycling.'' How's a poor trying-to-be-ex-troublemaker like me supposed to ride off into the plastic sunset in the face of such preposterous and incendiary nonsense? King's prem-ise that the plastic recycling war is over, that we should declare victory, and give the money to cancer research makes me wonder who or what he thinks it is that has won and lost. Or, to paraphrase Tonto's recent query to the Lone Ranger, ``What do you mean we, white man?''
Before the SPI, APC, CMA or whoever King refers to starts spending recycling-targeted dollars on oncology work, they darn well better make sure the tumors of discontent have been thoroughly radiated from their own house. The war to kill plastic recycling may, thankfully, finally have been lost, but the war to save it is far from being won.
True, those in the virgin-resin-producing sector who thought they could stonewall America's desire to recycle have gone the way of polystyrene clamshells and PVC bottles. The smart ones such as NAPCOR and the entire PET sector bet heavily on recycling and now are reaping rich rewards at the expense of resins that foolishly bet the other way.
Unfortunately, while there may be 7,000 cities with a program in place, most folks in plastic procurement today can't beg, borrow or steal a load of dirty milk jugs. Prices for that item alone, in baled and dirty form, have escalated from about 6 cents to more than 30 cents per pound in less than a year.
PET bottles are much the same. The capacity to recycle stands at about double the supply and California's Integrated Waste Management Board just this month abandoned much of its post-consumer requirements because of the inability of packagers to source the needed pounds. Those in the know fully understand that ``good old'' prompt scrap that never went to the landfill anyway will now betray the hard work recyclers put into that legislation.
Disgusting attempts to scare cities away from plastic collection such as the ludicrous spin Keep America Beautiful chose to put on the recent Franklin study are largely responsible for this. The American Plastics Council was one of the key backers of that study and mistakenly thought they were doing plastic a favor in the acquiescence to the mud slinging.
For the 149th time - recycling is good for plastic and plastic is good for recycling. Red-hot demand that was fueled by maturing legislation, new technologies like Johnson Controls Inc.'s OK-for-full-food-contact process, bold new recycling capacity and a return of healthy virgin resin prices is now being quenched in the icy waters of stupidity once again.
This isn't the time to leave recycling behind. It's the opportune moment to finish the job that is more than two-thirds completed already. It lies within our grasp to secure forever the viability of plastics as an environmentally superior packaging choice.
We can do this by taking the model of collection that built the whole infrastructure to recycle plastics - deposit legislation - and improve it into a system that departs from what made it undesirable to many when first tried. With two-thirds of the PET coming from one-fifth of the states (those with deposits) it's no secret that deposits generate tonnage.
Funneling the approximate $1.6 billion that a national system would generate in unredeemed deposits (the containers nobody takes back) directly to the cities that now balk at recycling costs would forever secure the viability of those programs. Not only would cities receive the dollars in unredeemed deposits, they would also win the right to redeem too those containers that did somehow stay in the waste or recycling stream, at full value for their trouble.
This would more than compensate for the loss of recycling revenue that deposit opponents in the soft drink industry often point to in their attempts to battle deposits. Both the recent Inform and Tellus studies seem to confirm that deposit bills need not be money losers ever again.
Both Plastics News and Modern editorialized along these lines late last year before hellfire and damnation of the National Soft Drink Association quenched further debate.
The supply problems we see today highlighted by widely publicized reporting of recycle-friendly companies such as Procter & Gamble and Clorox scaling back use of PCR because of the shortages is the tip of a threatening iceberg. Ridiculous price spikes making the reclaim industry unprofitable again will surely hasten the untimely demise of recyclers that finally were about to see the friendly side of a financial statement.
The war is not over, Roger, and therefore your side (whichever that is) did not win. Fortunately, this is one we can all win - recyclers, resin sellers, packagers and just plain folks.
Forman is the former owner of Poly-Anna Plastic Products Inc. of Milwaukee.