Recent moves by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers designed to spur improvements in plastic beverage container recycling offer a glimpse into not only the problems facing domestic processors, but also into the seriousness with which beverage industry recycling efforts will be scrutinized. The more eyes the better, particularly in light of the beverage industry's shifting commitments.
Word on the street following the emergency meeting held recently in Chicago between key beverage producers and their plastic bottle suppliers was that the producers were setting up another organization to pursue container recycling strategies. At the same time, NAPCOR was downsized by half.
The flip side of industry's announcement is an apparent abandonment of the Beverage Producers Environmental Council, announced only seven months ago. At the time, BPEC was the beverage industry's response to declining container recycling and a forum through which to develop and promote plans and programs. Housed within the National Recycling Coalition, BPEC could claim affiliation with the country's largest recycling organization.
To some observers, BPEC was little more than an effort to deflect new and renewed policy efforts to hold beverage producers responsible for achieving dramatically higher recycling rates. In some measure, BPEC was a victory for container recycling advocates to the extent producers were coming together in response to a lingering problem.
BPEC, of course, emerged in the midst of efforts by the state of Minnesota and others to undertake scoping studies, on the one hand, and to reconstitute more limited, multistakeholder dialogues to achieve a consensus solution to reverse the dismal state of plastic bottle recycling.
Minnesota's efforts were laudable attempts to resuscitate BEAR (Business and Environmentalist Allied for Recycling) and MSRP (Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Project), which, among other things, resulted in a major report that broke the 20-year information log-jam about container recycling and the relative performance of various systems, from drop-offs to deposits.
That report, let's recall, underscored the success of deposit systems to achieve recovery rates in excess of the stated 80 percent objective.
Industry was quick to demon—ize activists for making too much of that report and for taking its findings public. Yet through the lens of what has transpired since then, in the way of one half-hearted beverage industry effort after another, blaming the activists may have been the cleanest exit strategy for the producers that were part of the BEAR and MSRP processes.
The time for results and real progress has long passed. Whatever comes of the beverage producers' most recent “new organization,” it must be designed to stand and deliver, and cannot be permitted by the general public, by the plastics recycling industry, or by policy makers to serve as another detour on the road to reform.
Local and state government representatives appear poised to make one more attempt at reconvening meaningful, goal-oriented dialogue with producers.
Their objectives might be better served, however, by goal-oriented dialogue with domestic plastics recyclers, and with those socially responsible investors and grassroots organizations that, to date, have been the only ones capable of disciplining industry practice.
David Wood is executive director of GrassRoots Recycling Network and organizing director of Computer TakeBack Campaign in Madison, Wis.