As Plastics News has recently editorialized, there is a strong sentiment in the industry that controversies about a packages' recyclability, such as that over the new bioresin PLA, should be handled by the free market.
Indeed some consumer product and package companies have gone beyond that and acted as if they are entitled to introduce any new package into the marketplace that maximizes their sales objectives, no matter how many hurdles that imposes for its recovery, and recyclers will just have to find a way by themselves to handle it.
That belief is no longer acceptable to recyclers. If I may, I would like to explain why that belief is also fundamentally incompatible with the very free-market principles that its espouses to support those laissez-faire beliefs.
Free markets are said to be the best way to balance the supply with demand for the things people want, and to find the level of production where that supply and demand are brought into balance. Using the marketplace to neutrally arbitrate between buyers and sellers in this way is thought to be the best way to optimize overall human happiness.
However, for that to actually happen, the price of making something needs to reflect all of the costs that go into making it. Otherwise, its price will appear artificially cheap, and more people will buy it than they otherwise would if it were priced higher in order to capture all of the costs associated with its production.
Too often, the price we see only reflects the costs on the books of the manufacturer. Ignored are costs the company may impose on society-at-large, such as when pollutants are emitted from the smokestack at the factory where the product is made that causes the neighbors to become sick and die prematurely. If the company is allowed to continue polluting, it will be able to sell more goods because of its artificially low price. That will inflict more pain on the firm's neighbors than would have been the case if the goods reflected all of the costs its production caused.
When government passes regulations to protect innocent members of the public from being harmed by the production of things other people want, it does not violate economic principles. To the contrary, it makes it possible for the free market to function as intended by sending the correct price signal about how much things really cost.
In this case, some companies do not want their package branded as non-recyclable, because that might adversely affect sales, but they do want someone else, which winds up being the taxpayer, to pay the additional costs to recycle their especially hard-to-recycle packages. That warped view of the world bears no relationship to proper market principles, under which this sort of subsidization would not occur.
That is why most recyclers are today calling for a temporary moratorium on PLA in bottles until the recycling issues have been resolved.
Otherwise the taxpayer will be left to subsidize new and ill-considered packages, which fail to contemplate how their end-of-life can be sustainably handled.
Center for a Competitive Waste Industry