The economy is in the Dumpster, but the past year actually hasn't been too bad for plastics recycling.
As a result, you'll find the grades in our annual recycling report card to be a bit improved this year:
Coca-Cola Co.: B
Coca-Cola Co. finally has been shamed into stepping up its use of post-consumer PET. On April 5, the Atlanta company sent a memo to its bottlers telling them to prepare to use 10 percent recycled content in all bottles by 2005.
PepsiCo Inc.: F
Coke's Purchase, N.Y.-based rival is still the laggard, saying it will use recycled content only if it is proven safe and economical. Makes sense, until you recall that Pepsi and Coke were both on the recycling bandwagon back in December 1990, but then they quietly jumped off when they thought the public no longer was watching.
The onus now is on both Coke and Pepsi to do something to increase the collection of PET — especially single-serve bottles — for recycling.
Boise Cascade Corp.: B
Extruding recycled polyethylene with wood flour to make decking, fencing and other products is the hottest market in plastics. Boise Cascade is building a $70 million plant in the state of Washington.
Trex Co. Inc. of Winchester, Va., also is expanding and deserves credit for continuing to promote the product. If you've ever seen a glossy ad for plastic lumber in a home magazine, chances are it was paid for by Trex.
Two sour notes in plastic lumber this year: U.S. Plastic Lumber Co. is recovering from its acquisition spree by shutting down excess capacity, and more manufacturers are using virgin plastic to make products that once were the exclusive domain of recycled plastics.
Wellman Inc.: CThe Shrewsbury, N.J., PET producer and recycler dissolved its recycling division last year, deciding it made more sense to use post-consumer PET to make fiber than to sell it to plastics processors.
The company didn't earn a D because it still produces EcoClear recycled-content PET. If demand picks up, Wellman should be able to recapture a share of the market quickly.
Michael Day Enterprises Inc.: B
This Wadsworth, Ohio, compounder deserves a mention for its efforts to create a virginlike pellet from scrapped automotive plastics parts. They call the method "rejuvenation," and claim to have supplied the material at a cost below that of virgin resin.
Waste Management Inc.: B
Instead of simply fighting efforts to boost recycling through deposit legislation, the American Plastics Council is promoting an alternative that it hopes will accomplish the same goal: all-bottle recycling programs.
APC gets credit for pushing the idea, but Waste Management is actually putting up cash to test the concept. The company is building a megasorting plant in North Carolina. The question now: Will it be economical?
Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling: A
Santa Monica, Calif.-based BEAR, working with a wide network of other groups and individuals, helped push Coke to expand its recycling efforts. BEAR is pushing a recycling-rate goal of 80 percent and leaving it to industry to find the best way to get there. The group deserves an A for changing the terms of the debate.
Legislative efforts: F
Neither Kentucky House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo nor California state Sen. Wesley Chesbro could pass a bill with any teeth to advance plastics recycling in their states.
Still, their efforts were positive and should be encouraged. We can't say the same for the Berkeley (Calif.) City Council, which on July 27 passed a resolution encouraging citizens to avoid buying all plastic packaging.
Everyone else ready to move back to 1890 please raise your hands. Thank you.