When it comes to plastic pellets in storm drains and oceans, industry is the culprit. That's not the assessment of environmentalists, but several well-respected industry officials, including Larry Johnson, retired chairman of the Progressive Bag Alliance, who has shouldered much of the responsibility for correcting the situation.
``You can blame litter problems with plastic bags and polystyrene containers on others, but plastic pellets are an industry problem. You see them on the beaches and it really hits home. We are the guilty party and there is no one else to blame,'' he said.
Johnson was one of the key players in getting government and industry to work together to develop a recently announced enforcement initiative for pellet containment in Southern California.
Johnson also was instrumental in working with environmentalists and legislators to enact the California plastic bag recycling bill last year.
``No one touches plastic pellets but the plastics industry,'' said Pete Dinger, senior director of technology for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va. ``It is our personal responsibility.''
With that mind, the California Film Extruders and Converters Association, PBA, ACC and others have developed an initiative with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board aimed at stopping plastic pellets from entering storm drains in the Los Angeles Basin, rivers, bay and the ocean.
``The message to the industry is that there needs to be a wake-up call,'' said CFECA President Peter Grande, who is chief executive officer of Command Packaging in Vernon, Calif. ``Anyone who thinks this will stay in California and won't go elsewhere is living in a fantasy world. If there are any plastics in the ocean, it is the industry's fault.''
Rather than take a defensive approach, the plastics groups helped the Los Angeles water-quality board to develop a list of more than 1,000 firms that handle pellets in the region so the agency can target violators more easily.
Jonathan Bishop, the Los Angeles board's executive director, said in a telephone interview Feb. 22 that the board aims to send letters to all companies without storm-water permits by mid-March, give them 30 days to comply, work to educate them on good housekeeping principles, target offenders and make more than 200 unannounced inspections this year. He estimates about 100 companies, less than 10 percent of the total number, have the required permits.
The fines - $5,000 for no permit and $10,000 per day for each pellet discharge violation - were set to be higher than the estimated $6,000 annual cost, on average, for a company to comply with the requirements, in an effort to encourage companies to comply.
``This is a high priority for us,'' Bishop said. ``We will be prosecuting and letting companies know what they need to do to be in compliance and what they need to do to have a plastics industry in the state of California.''
David Nahai, head of the Los Angeles water-quality board's plastics division, said ``law-abiding members of the plastics industry are put at a disadvantage by those who refuse to comply.''
Added one industry executive: ``The good guys are tired of taking the hit for the bad guys. We will finally get a feel of how many bad actors are out there, and they will stand out like a sore thumb.''