One of the rules of commerce most often violated by sellers is the one that warns against blaming the customer for not buying your goods.
Such a sentiment hung like a cheap suit over Detroit for much of the 1980s, when the Big Three endured a sales slump that created much anxiety and disingenuous rhetoric. In a remarkably bad public relations and marketing exercise, the American consumer was faulted publicly by some auto company executives for not buying U.S. cars.
Sadly, plastics recycling, which leans significantly on government subsidization to support the concept, is dangerously close to falling into that same trap.
The industry successfully has lobbied state and federal governments to adopt recycling regulations, but has found the national government particularly slow to buy huge amounts of recycled plastic products.
That frustrates some in recycling, who suggest bureaucrats are talking out of both sides of their mouth and procurement officials need to be better educated. The latter could be interpreted as a euphemism for ``get with the program.''
Copping an attitude is not going to help people embrace plastics recycling. Government procurement officers may not have adequate knowledge of what is available in recycled products, which they are encouraged by an executive order to buy when possible. But they also, as stewards of public funds, must be thrifty shoppers of merchandise.
Unlike widely used recycled-content paper, which is cost-effective to produce and use, recycled-content plastic products often are less affordable. That poses a dilemma for consumers and purchasing officers, who nearly always lean toward the best price, especially in an era of declining wages and tight budgets.
A more troubling aspect of the plastics recycling issue is the expectation that greater government subsidization will be necessary to keep the industry alive. While government contracts are highly prized and typically a boon to any business, it is wrong to make them a condition of your existence.
Neither the government nor consumers exist to prop up a commercial enterprise.
There are sound environmental and industry reasons to support plastics recycling. It is not realistic or politically wise, however, for recyclers to think that because the idea is good, it should be afforded preferential treatment in the marketplace.