The plastics industry is asking the National Football League not to ban plastic beverage containers from football stadiums in light of recent debacles in Cleveland and New Orleans.
The National Association for PET Container Resources sent a letter Dec. 20 to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ``urging the league to carefully consider all variables involved in the fan protests of officials calls'' during the games. Fans interrupted two games in December by throwing debris from the stands onto the fields in protest. The debris, in large part, included PET bottles for beer, soda and water.
``What we picked up on was, this issue was so significant that it was elevated all the way to the commissioner's office, and the commissioner and others are going to be contemplating very quickly what to do,'' said Luke Schmidt, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based NAPCOR.
The NFL's main office in New York had not released any information as of Dec. 21 regarding the use of plastic containers at NFL games.
NAPCOR officials have been working with several major league sports teams to develop recycling programs in stadiums for plastic bottles. They even may be able to use the recent incidents as a catalyst for the NFL, the beverage industry and PET container makers to develop comprehensive stadium recycling programs, Schmidt said. In 2000, the recycling rate for PET bottles was 22.3 percent, compared with 62.1 percent for aluminum cans. The recycling rate for glass containers was 25.5 percent in 1998.
Two teams, the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, have banned plastic beer bottles from their stadiums for their remaining home games, Schmidt said. New Orleans' and St. Louis Rams' concessionaires will pour beer from plastic bottles into cups.
Major league sports venues have sold beverages in PET containers since 1995 without incident until December, he said.
``This has nothing to do with the bottles; it has everything to do with really bad behavior on the part of a relatively small number of people,'' Schmidt said. ``The focus really needs to be on what can be done to eliminate that kind of behavior.''
Cleveland Browns officials have said the team will examine the plastic bottle issue for next year. Pittsburgh Steelers officials announced they will continue to sell beverages in plastic bottles at Heinz Field but will ban them if problems occur.
Concessionaires and fans prefer plastic bottles because they are lightweight, unbreakable, easier to carry than cups and lack the foam of draft beverages, according to NAPCOR.
Large venues such as sporting events and concerts are the primary market for beer sold in plastic bottles. The containers can cost 4-8 cents more per unit to make than other containers, said Peter Anderson, president of RecycleWorlds Consulting Corp.
``It grabs people's eye that the major market they have is in jeopardy of evaporating, at least for this season,'' he said. ``Bottom line - it's interesting, people are watching that stadium issue, but it's not the defining issue.''
Even if every stadium in the NFL banned plastic beer bottles, the market would survive, Anderson said. The potential market is so large that technology will come up with a low-cost solution to make the product more competitive with glass bottles and aluminum cans.
``In a stadium, when you're paying five bucks a bottle, you don't have a choice - you eat it,'' he said. ``That just means the toehold they've used for early introduction with a high-cost bottle is being yanked at.''
Beer makers and plastic container manufacturers are watching the issue.
``We're certainly going to monitor it,'' said Mike Hennick, a spokesman for Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co. ``We don't think banning plastic bottles gets to the root of the problem. But safety is our No. 1 concern and, if some of the venues feel they have to ban the sale of plastic bottled beer to ensure safety, we understand.''