Complex state plastics recycling rates, forged by legislatures with high-minded intent, are going to be a thorn in the side of the American Plastics Council for the next few years. Certainly APC members realize the delicate situations the organization faces when it ventures from the safe confines of Washington, D.C., and actually involves itself in real, live, state politics - especially when that involvement concerns determining a nice, round number, like a recycling rate.
If APC gets involved and rate goals are not met, APC looks bad for not making them happen.
If rates are met, APC has to be careful and not give the appearance of overshadowing the state functionaries scrambling for the credit.
Unfortunately, APC recently went hunting in the Golden Bear state with the wrong ammunition.
California has one of the nation's loftiest recycling goals for its citizenry and the success or failure of its recycling statute is watched by dozens of other states.
Here's the rub: The California Integrated Waste Management Board is trying to wiggle out of certain political catastrophe by putting off its pronouncement of a rate. The reason is simple: By accepted current national yardsticks, Californians aren't recycling plastics nearly as fast as they said they were going to.
The California recycling law's big flaw is requiring 25 percent of the plastic sold in the state be recycled, or else.
The law's deadline for a progress report from CIWMB passed Jan. 1. The agency didn't even file the mandatory reports for 1993 and 1994.
There are several ways to determine how much is sold, all legitimate and all possible bases for determining an actual recycling rate.
APC members do not want the rate to fall short of the 25 percent mark, because if it is, packaging manufacturers face the very costly job of proving to the state that their individual products - which may or may not end up being sold in California - contain a minimum of 25 percent post-consumer plastic, or are recycled at a 45 percent rate; or are sufficiently source reduced to meet state guidelines.
Roger Bernstein, APC's state government affairs chief, went to California in mid-1994 to offer to pay a reported $75,000 to a consultant with whom the APC would contract to determine recycling rates on the state's behalf.
But a special board-appointed Recycling Rate Advisory Committee objected to the prospect of APC having too much control over that arrangement. Tim Flanagan, vice president of Waste Management of California Inc., on the advisory committee wrote, ``I would strongly recommend that the board actively manage this process,'' instead of allowing APC to supervise the data-gathering and analysis.
Bernstein fired off letters to the CIWMB on Feb. 21 and March 2 charging that the state was dragging its feet and had distributed a substantially revised agreement document to the advisory committee without consulting APC. He pulled out of the agreement, declaring APC was going to do its own recycling rate study.
Despite Bernstein's protests, the agreement probably would have hit the rocks sooner or later anyway. An independent review of the APC/CIWMB agreement by program analyst Michael Harris of the California Department of Conservation released March 3 ripped the deal to shreds for its lack of clarity, questionable legality - even its typographical errors.
Harris found the agreement ``may also conflict with recent court decisions regarding contracting with a private entity to perform work within the scope and ability of state employees.''
Further, ``it is unclear as to what entity is responsible for selecting the contractor'' who will ultimately determine just how well Californians are responding to their law, Harris' letter to the CIWMB said.
Several California recyclers and manufacturers might now wish APC had never ventured into the recycling rate quagmire. APC, as it should, tried to parley its money and expertise to win a seat at the table in the debate that will be important to its members.
APC then goofed when it threatened to abandon the project, and state bureaucrats called the bluff.