(May 21, 2007) — Is the problem a shortage of materials or a shortage of leadership to develop initiatives to address the problems?
That is the question recyclers need to ask themselves as they struggle with unused capacity, a tight supply market and initiatives that threaten to ban products made from the materials they need to run the their recycling operations.
It won't do recyclers any good to argue that China — because of its low labor costs — can outbid U.S. recyclers for one-third of the material collected here.
It won't do recyclers any good to argue cash-starved municipalities don't have the financial resources to improve their collection systems.
It also won't do them any good to continue to spin rhetoric that bans won't end the litter problem and argue they deprive a recycling industry of materials it desperately needs and consumers of useful products.
Retired Progressive Bag Alliance Chairman Larry Johnson and Pete Grande, president of the California Film Extruders & Converters Association, are among the handful who have tirelessly urged the industry to take responsibility.
But, for the most part, there has been an overabundance of complaining and an eerie silence at some of the industry's biggest companies and associations that suggests they are washing their hands and staying out of issues that could dramatically change the industry.
There are plenty of products available to be recycled — witness the 6.56 billion pounds of HDPE and PET bottles not recycled in 2005.
If the recycling sector wants more material and companies don't want their products banned, recyclers, product manufacturers and retailers need to develop solutions — and back them financially — to increase collection in the U.S. and reduce litter.
The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers has taken two steps forward in the past year, saying it would not oppose expansion of existing bottle bills to include noncarbonated beverages and securing a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop templates that can be used for recycling at stadiums and arenas.
But much more needs to be done.
The industry can make itself a driving force in litter cleanup and recycling education.
Recyclers, product manufacturers and material recovery facilities can work together to form closed-loop systems that turn recycled plastics back into products.
All parties can form partnerships that place additional recycling containers at fast-food establishments, retailers and public venues such as parks, beaches, sports arenas and stadiums.
Is that a Field of Dreams, maybe? But not building it might be costlier.