Union Carbide Corp.'s announced closing of its New Jersey recycling plant Oct. 1 lends credence to the widespread belief that the facility was a Trojan horse for Carbide, meant to counter efforts earlier this decade to legislate state fees, known as manufacturers' responsibility mandates, to fund recycling directly. Officially, Carbide said it is shutting down the high density polyethylene recycling plant in Piscataway, N.J., due to less-than-acceptable earnings potential.
At best, the facility, which opened in 1991 and had the capacity to recycle 50 million pounds of HDPE per year, was a modest moneymaker for Carbide. At the time the plant began operations, recycled plastics buyers said there was sufficient material in the market and prices for recycled HDPE were depressed.
Carbide was one of three major PE suppliers to open such facilities in the early 1990s. Quantum Chemical Co. of Cincinnati and Phillips 66 Co. of Bartlesville, Okla., were the others.
Quantum closed its Heath, Ohio, plant last year. Phillips still operates its recycling facility in Tulsa, Okla.
Presumably, Carbide's sideline operation could have been a larger contributor to the success of recycling had there been a greater market for its processed pelletized product. Ironically, at smaller recycling operations where ``other market'' thinking is more distinct, the practice is also to manufacture products made with their processed HDPE.
Carbide's decision to close its recycling plant reflects the subtle de-emphasizing of recycling by the American Plastics Council. The latter quietly has dropped the previous industry goal of recycling 25 percent of plastic bottles by 1995 - a target not met.
That is not the direction the industry should be headed.
ECONOMICS AS THOUGH PEOPLE REALLY MATTER
The students who won Owens Cornings' contest to design a low-cost bicycle (Plastics News, July 1, Page 11) using composites as the primary material illustrate the benefit of practicing economics as if people mattered.
The seven students, from the University of SÃo Paulo in Brazil, competed with 24 other student teams representing the top design and engineering schools in North and South America, Europe and Asia in the Toledo, Ohio-based company's Global Design Challenge.
The task was to develop a bicycle that cost less than $100. The company's selection of the bicycle was an inspired choice. It is used in much of the world as a primary mode of transportation, requires only people-power to operate and doesn't pollute.
The winning design, called the Kangaroo, has an adjustable wheelbase and a V-shaped frame made of polyester reinforced with glass fibers. Production costs for the bike are estimated at $82.
Owens Corning now is looking for a manufacturer to produce the bicycle. A generation ago, students might have called that power to the people.