Stung by the loss of several key member companies, the National Association for PET Container Resources has laid off staff and is rethinking its mission.
NAPCOR, based in Charlotte, eliminated two of its seven staff positions and has halted spending on its traditional programs to support bottle recycling. The companies that left - Constar International Inc., Owens-Illinois Inc., Wellman Inc. and Nan Ya Plastics Corp. - cited the tight economy, NAPCOR officials said.
``Because of the loss of four members, it's really caused our members to stop and think about what role they want NAPCOR to play,'' said Luke Schmidt, president of the group. ``It may be that we continue to work on recycling. It may be that we do something completely different, or a combination thereof. But until we finish [the review], we really don't know.''
He said in a March 26 interview in his office that the group hopes to finish the review in several weeks. The departures hurt the group financially.
NAPCOR dues for bottle makers and resin suppliers are paid based on market share, and some of the firms that left are significant players. Constar and O-I are among the largest blow molders in North America, for example.
Schmidt declined to discuss financial details, but the group had an annual budget of about $2 million in 2002, the last year figures are publicly available. About $1.8 million came from company dues, according to NAPCOR filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
Schmidt said all the companies left for economic reasons, and he said he was not aware of other firms that were contemplating leaving. If the group does not lose other members, he said its finances are now stable.
The two staffers laid off were Tim Warren, director of the group's central region office in St. Louis, and Jenny Malbasa, the public affairs director in Charlotte. NAPCOR had 10 staffers at its height, in the mid-1990s.
Schmidt declined to say specifically what changes could be in store for NAPCOR, but he raised the possibility that the cutbacks could bring changes in its recycling activities: ``I think how we approach it clearly will be different in the future.''
That could be another blow to a struggling PET recycling industry.
NAPCOR started in 1987, when the PET bottle industry was under pressure to boost recycling. While the group lobbies against container deposits favored by environmentalists, it does research and supports programs to recycle PET bottles in curbside systems and at large venues like sporting events.
It also publishes an annual report calculating the PET container recycling rate and analyzing the state of the PET recycling industry.
The PET bottle recycling rate has fallen from 40 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2002. Recyclers have been vocal: The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers said in February that the sector is in crisis.