Despite a recent slowdown and perceived apathy from the U.S. public, plastics recyclers say their industry is not going the way of the dinosaur. ``We are committed to recycling for the long-term,'' said Joe Granda, president of Bridgeport, N.J.-based National Polystyrene Recycling Co. ``We'll make sure we survive, but it gets more difficult every day.''
Recycled plastics are in a downswing. But the business and mission of recycling are here to stay, according to recyclers and some plastics industry recycling supporters, regardless of the current financial strain.
``Recycling not only conserves resources and reduces waste, it creates jobs and stimulates sustainable economic development,'' said Jim Bosch, director of Minneapolis-based Target Stores' environmental department. ``It makes sense to use our purchasing dollars to realize the economic and environmental benefits offered by recycling.''
However, the slump in recycled resin prices makes this a tough time for plastic recycling to make economic sense at the
end of each day. Pat Franklin, acting director for the Container Recycling Institute in Washington, believes industry and the public have lost sight of their recycling mission.
``Recycling has become a goal in itself. We need to be reminded that recycling reduces waste and doesn't waste energy and re-sources,'' he said.
Why the recent lack of interest? Because society has realized the fallacy in the cash-for-trash myth, and understands that landfill space is not going to be gone at the end of the century, Granda said.
Recent events, like the shutdown of Union Carbide Corp.'s plastics recycling plant are ``symptomatic of a problem in the U.S. today - apathy. It concerns me as a recycler if the lack of interest continues,'' he said. ``Not only do few participate in recycling, there's a lack of interest to buy something with post-consumer material in it.''
Some industry observers feel the public's disinterest was captured by a recent New York Times story, ``Recycling is Garbage.''
``The New York Times ar-ticle was a picture in time ac-curately reflect-ing society,'' said Robert H. Burnett, executive director of the Vinyl Insti-tute in Morris-town, N.J., a unit of Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
But Franklin thought the article was ``garbage.''
``For the average person who dutifully placed recyclables in his blue box, the article put a damper on the love affair with recycling,'' he said.
``It was a very believable story, but untrue,'' said Kenneth Camp-bell, a partner with KW Plastics Recycling in Troy, Ala. ``People who are not in the industry have no way of knowing the whole truth.''
According to the National Re-cycling Coalition Inc. of Arlington, Va., recycling is popular.
``There are more than 7,300 curbside programs across the U.S., serving more than 120 million Americans,'' said NRC Pres-ident Mark Lichtenstein. ``The number of programs and participants has risen steadily.''
Among adults who reported a recycling program in their community, two-thirds said they always recycle cans, plastic or newspapers at home, according to a 1996 Council on Packaging in the Environment report.
``The recycling ethic has been embraced and curbside recycling is easy to do,'' said Luke Schmidt, president of the National Asso-ciation for Plastic Container Re-covery, a PET trade group based in Charlotte, N.C.
Trade associations such as SPI's Vinyl Institute and Polyure-thanes Recycle and Recovery Council have developed technology to make recycling feasible.
``With further breakthroughs and enhancements, this is a very dynamic period for materials, products and manufacturing processes,'' said Mark Sofman, program manager for PURRC. He pointed out that recycling is not SPI's core business, but it supports recycling enough to fund and explore technology.
``We've done what we can to make [recycling] technically feasible,'' Burnett said. ``The public needs to understand it must pay for recycling.''
But Franklin believes the burden should be shifted from taxpayers to manufacturers. That the responsibility works well for bottle-bill states, he said.
The recycling industry may always be at the mercy of the public's whims, but recyclers can be hopeful. NAPCOR, National Polystyrene Recycling Co. and other associations and companies are teaching the next generation about recycling through programs in elementary schools.
``Recycling is not going away,'' Sofman said. ``It's always been with us; recycling is not new. It's just had greater importance since Earth Day 1970.''