A month after saying the polystyrene food-service recycling business on the West Coast was at ``a crisis point,'' Larry McIntyre has shuttered his business, ending a 15-year effort to recycle PS from schools.
McIntyre, vice president and general manager of Recycling Professionals Inc. in the Portland, Ore., suburb of West Linn, said in a telephone interview that he made his final deliveries June 27.
``Financially, we were doing fine. I kept my nose above water,'' said McIntyre, whose company recycled PS and polypropylene food-service packaging from seven school districts within a 100-mile radius of Portland, as well as from several commercial accounts such as company cafeterias.
``But the plastics industry wasn't prepared to step forward'' to support the recycling of PS take-out containers back into food-grade resin, he said.
``I thought it was better to pull the plug before I got into trouble. I just don't know how to make this work anymore. If you look out at the immediate horizons, you see bans and more proposed bans and tell yourself this isn't looking real well.''
Since September 2005, 15 bans have been enacted in California, most recently in Scotts Valley, Calif. That law, passed June 18, goes into effect in six months. Proposed bans also are pending in other California cities, Seattle and communities far removed from the West Coast like Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.
McIntyre said the decision to close was ``bittersweet.''
``We must have been ahead of the time,'' he said. ``We were recycling and we saw that as a good future in a world moving toward zero waste.''
In a typical year, McIntyre said his companies recycled 2.5 million school lunch trays, as well as 1 million to 1.5 million plates, 2 million cups and 4 million pieces of cutlery.
The closing of Recycling Professionals leaves Evergreen Partnering Group in North Reading, Mass., as the only other major recycler of PS foam trays from public schools. Evergreen serves pubic schools in Boston and Providence, R.I.; Pasco County, Fla.; and Gwinnett County, Georgia the nation's 18th-largest school district.
The drive to ban PS takeout packaging threatens a market that the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the American Chemistry Council last fall estimated to be worth $420 million, equally split between paper and plastics.
California accounts for 16 percent of the nation's restaurant sales, and quick-service and quick-casual sales account for 41 percent of all restaurant sales.
McIntyre said he was disappointed that the industry did not take a more active role in PS recycling from schools or restaurants.
``I was just getting ignored. All I wanted was for them to help me go out and fight these bans,'' McIntyre said. ``I just wanted political coverage. I needed them to publicly acknowledge that recycling was a good alternative. But they didn't want to go back'' and revisit a failed effort to expand PS recycling from two decades ago, McIntyre said.
In the late 1980s, the industry established the National Polystyrene Recycling Co., at considerable expense, to spur increased PS recycling, but it never achieved that objective.