A suggestion that polyethylene napthalate bottles carry a quill symbol, instead of the SPI recycling code, is interesting, but probably impractical. PEN resin, a high-temperature, high-cost cousin of PET, will begin to appear on grocery store shelves sometime soon. The material promises to open new packaging markets to plastics - perhaps we'll even see beer dressed in plastic bottles.
The newly commercial resin could pose problems to plastics recyclers. How will they differentiate among PEN, PET and other clear plastics? Although the PET recycling stream probably can handle an influx of PEN, resin suppliers such as Eastman Chemical Co. expect that the high value of PEN will make it worthwhile for recyclers to recover separately.
Eastman has floated the idea of using a quill symbol on the bottles, because under the current SPI recycling code system, PEN would bear either a No. 1, like PET, or, worse, a No. 7, the catch-all ``other'' category.
In practice, however, PEN's problem is not much different from polycarbonate - a minor player in packaging markets but significant in water bottles. PC bottles carry the No. 7 symbol, but recyclers learned to identify them long ago because of their value.
Recyclers will adapt similarly to PEN. If the quill idea has any merit, it must be coupled with an extensive campaign to educate consumers - many of whom now believe only No. 1 and No. 2 bottles are recyclable - about the meaning of the symbol.
Without consumer re-education, the PEN quill would be little more than a symbolic gesture toward recyclers.
COMMUNITIES COURT FORMER WALLFLOWER
The striking number of state and regional economic development groups sharing booths with utility companies at Plastics Fair Chicago provides a good barometer of how stiff competition has become among communities for new industry.
Of 355 exhibitors, more than a dozen were development agencies trolling for prospects. In most cases, recruiters were partnered with the local utility. That makes sense, since neither a state nor a power company can move when business is bad. Sharp global competition and downsizing has increased the pressure on states to replace lost jobs, tax revenue and in some areas, population.
The plastics industry is one targeted by development groups in their effort to create and retain jobs. It holds promise for many communities because of the industry's strong growth and demand for workers at various skill levels.
Processors also happen to be good customers for utility companies, which, prior to deregulation of that industry, often were not afforded the attention their power consumption warranted, since many were viewed simply as small industrial customers.
They now are seen as the key to success.