(Nov. 15, 2004) — One of the strangest marriages in the plastics industry is about to end. How plastics recyclers deal with the situation could be important to the future of their businesses.
The news is that the American Plastics Council is cutting its annual funding of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. Now, instead, APC will fund specific projects with APR.
First, let's make some sense of this alphabet soup. APR represents plastics recyclers, but it's a broader membership than you might think. Affiliate members include some resin suppliers, bottle makers, and some important customers like Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.
APC represents resin suppliers, and it is part of the American Chemistry Council — which formerly was known as the Chemical Manufacturers Association. APC's members were hit pretty hard during the recession, and the group also suffered in recent years as mergers and defections reduced its ranks. Today rising energy prices and an improving economy means most resin suppliers are doing a lot better, but APC still is in budget-cutting mode. That's the main reason APC is cutting funding to APR.
Recyclers and resin suppliers have had a long, unusual relationship. In the early days of recycling, resin suppliers often provided financial help to recyclers, through grants and special projects. Working together was in their best interest, because resin companies were trying to prove to skeptical environmentalists and legislators that plastics were recyclable.
Recyclers have had their hands in resin suppliers' wallets for so long that it almost seemed natural that APR and APC would grow close. Eventually that meant the two groups would share office space, and APC would pay the salary of APR's one full-time staffer.
Still, many recyclers are rather entrepreneurial and independent-minded, and at times they've realized that the best interest of their companies hasn't always been in line with APC's wishes.
Yet APR has managed to do important work. The best example is the effort to help companies design new packaging to maximize recyclability. Continuing that work is absolutely essential to the plastics packaging sector.
Recyclers are saying that this is a tough time for APR to lose APC funding. That may be true, but if you've ever worked in the association business, you know that no time is a good time to have to find new sources of revenue. Is business really that bad now? I've been watching recyclers pretty closely for the past 15 years, and I can't remember a time when most would say business was good.
There's still a lot of good that APR can do, even without APC's cash. And APC should be smart and make sure its relationship with recyclers doesn't sour, because the reasons for working together are many, even if they aren't tied as closely as they have been in the past.
I don't think recyclers will sink without APC's help. It's more likely that APR will swim in some new directions that could benefit many of its members.
Don Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News.