Berger, whose company also has plants in Alabama, Ohio and Texas, said demand for some plastics they recycle, such as high molecular weight HDPE from dunnage trays, is the lowest it's been in 20 years.
"We're getting a lot of customers that are saying to us, in order to save a penny or two, it's not worth exploring a recycled product," Berger said.
He said he understands the thinking, even if it's bad for his business and the environment, with sending resources to the landfill that could otherwise be reused.
"I don't necessarily disagree. If I had the choice between a used car and a new car, and the new car is 2 percent more, I'll take the new car," he said. "Unless there's that larger delta [between recycled and virgin prices], there's really no financial incentives."
He said the price difference between virgin and recycled generally should be about 30 percent for recycling to be on more solid ground.
Berger, who was interviewed jointly with Jones at the Nashville conference, said his company is adding equipment and processing capacity. But he said he's aware of other companies besides Jones' that have had to shut down some operations.
He believes more recycled content demand from larger companies would help.
"With the larger Tier 1s and OEMs, you have $50 billion companies that have the power to make certain changes," Berger said.
The head of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, which was one of the organizers of the Nashville event, agreed that post-industrial recycling is also challenging now, even if post-consumer markets sometimes get more attention in news reports and in government policy debates.
"That's certainly the visible focus narrative these days, on consumer behavior … but frankly dealing with post-industrial material is as big an issue as dealing with post-consumer material," said APR President and CEO Steve Alexander.
He said APR members do both post-consumer and post-industrial recycling. While post-consumer markets tend to have more issues with sortation and contamination than industrial scrap recycling, both have similar challenges around pricing, product design and markets, he said.
Jones said he agrees both are important but is advocating for more attention on what manufacturing companies throw away that feeds post-industrial markets. He said he's getting more politically active on the issue.
For example, he said he had a meeting scheduled with aides to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to share concerns.
Portman introduced legislation in November in Washington that would set up federal grants to support recycling education, and one of his staffers spoke on a panel at the Nashville event.
"Post-consumer is a big issue, but post-industrial is a major, major waste contributor and it's only going to get bigger," Jones said. "The way things are headed, recycled plastic is going to be next to worthless."