Chrysler drives ahead with recycling effort
At last, a sign that the automotive industry is serious about plastics recycling.
Chrysler Corp. deserves applause for its decision to use recycled PET in headliners in the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Congratulations also to Prince Corp., which developed the material and shopped it to the automakers.
Detroit has talked a good game for years, but automakers have been cautious about using recycled plastics. Recycling has taken a back seat to price and performance pressures. But the industry's insistence that recycling make sense is good news. Otherwise, it will be too easy to stop using recycled content at the first sign that profit is slipping.
PET is just a niche player in automotive headliners, and other materials are working to meet the challenge posed by this interloper. United Technologies Automotive, for example, has developed a way to use polyurethane scrap in its headliners.
From an environmental point of view, Prince still has the advantage. Not only does the company have a commercial customer now, but Prince's process actually uses post-consumer material — not post-industrial, like UTA's. But UTA is working to catch up.
Other challenges await down the road. Recycled PET comes primarily from soft drink bottles collected through curbside or bottle-deposit programs. If PET headliners catch on, the automotive industry could be faced with a material shortage. The obvious solution will be to boost PET bottle recycling.
Better yet, the auto industry should get to work on using recycled plastics from cars, instead of depending on the packaging industry to supply all their raw material. Setting up a collection infrastructure won't be easy, and the fact that automakers use a variety of materials for similar parts will make automotive plastic recycling problematic.
But those hurdles are still down the road, and the auto industry deserves credit for taking these steps to use more recycled plastics.
Competition may be what railroad needs
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. continues to hammer on an important issue — continued problems in rail service in the Houston area since the merger of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads.
SPI now is part of a coalition that has urged the Surface Transportation Board to force UP to sell part of its network.
Clearly, the 1996 rail merger was a mistake. The question now is how to best rectify problems that followed the deal.
Federal and state regulators will have some difficult decisions to make in coming months, and UP and its customers will lobby hard for an advantage.
In case authorities need a reminder, here's a lesson in free markets: A tiny dose of competition can do a lot of good. Often it can even exceed the best intentions of well-meaning experts and regulators.