Plastics recyclers are concerned because a few dairies are experimenting with pigmented high density polyethylene bottles as a way to win consumers' attention and greater market share. Recycled natural HDPE carries a substantial price premium to its pigmented counterpart.
Dairies can't be blamed for this problem. They know consumers like the convenience of the plastic bottles. But they feel compelled to answer plastics industry critics who gleefully point out that light can alter milk's vitamin content and fresh taste. Pigmented bottles help protect flavor and vitamins.
Grocery stores can help deal with the issue by displaying and handling plastic bottles properly — using less-damaging kinds of fluorescent lamps, keeping dairy cases cooler and rotating bottles on display so none are in the light for too long. Ultimately the problem must be solved through information, and the responsibility rests with the plastics industry, including plastics recyclers.
One important note, however: We can't help but feel that in this case, recyclers picked a poor target to complain about.
Milk isn't soda pop. Few parents pester their children to finish their ginger ale before they leave the dinner table. Doctors never urge nursing women to drink more Sprite.
Yet recyclers rarely complain about green soft-drink bottles, which cause the same problems as pigmented milk jugs. Do clear sodas taste better, or contain more vitamins, when they come from a green bottle?
Free trade pans out
The U.S. plastics industry deserves a pat on the back for its international trade record for 1996.
Not only did resin suppliers report their typical healthy trade surplus, but plastics processors joined in the export party, reporting a $660 million surplus, up from a $46 million deficit in 1995.
The two traditional weak links in the industry's trade picture, makers of molds and machinery, also showed healthy gains in 1996.
The combination resulted in a U.S. plastics trade surplus of nearly $7 billion last year. Observers' explanations for the strong performance include improvements in U.S. manufacturers' productivity and greater awareness of international trade opportunities.
Other factors have to include the healthy post-Cold War U.S. economy, with its routinely low inflation and interest rates, and the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
This upbeat performance should be enough to quiet any calls for trade protectionism from within the plastics industry.