Has the plastics industry been paying attention to the battle we've watched unfold in the Town of Lockport, N.Y.?
That's where SRI CV Plastics Inc. has proposed building its first U.S. injection molding plant but ended up running into opposition from environmental groups and residents.
We've been writing about the project since this summer when the company first applied for $600,000 in state and local assistance. At first, the company said it planned to injection mold food packaging at the plant and extrude PVC pipe in a second phase of development.
Opponents complained that PVC was too dangerous, citing the train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, when rail cars of vinyl chloride monomer were drained and the material burned off after a derailment.
VCM is mostly used to make PVC resin, so that was a red flag for some Lockport residents — never mind that pipe extrusion plants don't handle VCM. But to appease opponents, SRI dropped PVC pipe from its plan.
Under the updated proposal, the plant will mold containers, packaging and utensils using polyethylene, polypropylene and recycled plastics. The $3.3 million project will create 20 full-time jobs.
The company's lawyer, Terry C. Burton, assured the town's industrial development agency that the plant will not pose an environmental threat. Shouldn't that be obvious? But environmentalists still oppose the project. In a Sept. 13 letter, 43 environmental groups wrote that "public dollars should not be used to subsidize a private company that will profit from making single-use food packaging and utensils."
The Lockport IDA's decision is still pending, but the latest word on the project has me wondering whether the plastics industry is paying attention. I'm referring to a Buffalo News editorial, "Single-use plastic production is a poor candidate for subsidies." The first line grabbed my attention. "Memo to attorney Terry C. Burton: It's never a good idea to assume or assert that a manufacturing process is 'safe' when that process involves melting plastic."
The newspaper asserted that "plastic causes human harm at every stage of its life cycle" and that pellets transported to the factory "are most likely to spill out, contaminating the environment and harming wildlife."
The newspaper also questioned the company's credibility because SRI submitted fabricated information to support the project. That reflected poorly on the company.
SRI says without local assistance, the Lockport project will not move forward. I think the project will win approval, and I'm more confident that SRI can find another community that will welcome the jobs and investment.
But this story has me thinking that the industry needs to do some damage control. We don't want to get to a point where it's difficult to site plastics processing plants.
Don Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog.