It may be too soon to sound the death knell for the National Association for PET Container Resources. You might not want to leave the hospital bedside, though.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based group surprised the PET world May 12 when it announced it was laying off its president of 17 years and two other senior staffers.
The small trade group also had a round of layoffs earlier this year, and now is left with only two employees, mainly to maintain some technical expertise in its core recycling area and keep the group from disappearing entirely.
NAPCOR was a victim of an ultracompetitive economy that forced cuts at the bottle manufacturers and resin suppliers that supply most of the trade group's funding. At the same time, PET recycling companies warn that they, too, are really struggling. The amount of PET being recycled in the United States is stagnating, while Asian companies are driving up prices by purchasing about one-third of the available U.S. recycled PET.
NAPCOR has done good work, and hopefully that will continue. It has developed programs on recycling at large events and provided technical consulting to develop PET recycling over the years. The dedicated staffers who are leaving - President Luke Schmidt, Vice President Don Kneass and regional director Sandi Childs - will be missed in the tight-knit world of PET recycling.
But frankly, some of the hard times in recycling are of the industry's own making, because it has been unable, or unwilling, to support actions like bottle bills that would really help.
We've long supported container deposits because they're hands-down more effective than what we have now. One comprehensive study in 2002 found that bottle bills have a recycling rate of 60-80 percent, and curbside systems have a rate of 20 percent.
Of course, deposit systems cost more. That same study found that bottle bills cost about 2.2 cents per container, vs. 1.7 cents in curbside systems. A key question is, who pays that cost? Industry, including NAPCOR and its customer groups, bear much of the cost of implementing deposit systems. They have reasonable concerns.
But much of the response from industry - and that includes NAPCOR and its customer groups like the soft drink industry and grocery stores - has been to try to shift the burden onto curbside systems, where taxpayers bear the cost. That's not a reasonable response.
The situation in PET recycling is difficult. Recycling rates for PET containers have dropped from 40 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2002.
Recyclers and their trade groups are warning of trouble, as coverage in this week's special report details. And the soft drink industry has summoned its PET suppliers to talk strategy.
We don't see bottle bills as the be-all and end-all. Some recyclers suggest looking at systems in place in parts of Canada and Europe, which more broadly tax all packaging as a way to boost recycling.
If that would address some objections in the soft drink industry that bottle bills unfairly single out one type of packaging, they're worth pursuing.
But what's needed is a real willingness to sit down and look at how to boost PET recycling, and not simply trying to pass the buck, or the bottle.