[GRRN] Industry Help Needed to Solve Dismal Plastic Situation

Bill Sheehan (bill_sheehan@mindspring.com)
Wed, 16 Dec 1998 11:35:26 -0500

[Forwarded from Anne Morse <AMorse@NT1.Co.Winona.MN.US> This is the text of
an article by Anne that ran in the Winona Daily News.]

by Anne Morse

Jeff Dankert's story in last Sunday's (12/6/98) Winona Daily News
about the dismal circumstances of plastics recycling in Winona County,
as well as across the nation, was a good one. We have big problems
related to the recycling of plastics, and many of us are starting to
think that the businesses and industries that have a hand in creating
the problems should play a part in solving them.

For the last two months counties across Minnesota have had to
stockpile bales of the plastic soda bottles (coded #1 PET) that they
collect at curbside. PET plastic that sold for over $240/ton earlier
this year is today literally unmarketable. And the businesses and
local governments that have invested in recycling plastics are in
desperate circumstances.

What are the reasons for this oversupply of plastics, and what can be
done about it?

First and foremost, we can improve things considerably by making sure
that insofar as plastic is concerned, only bottles that have a #1 or a
#2 on the bottom are recycled. Additionally, all the caps must be
removed. The resulting increase in the quality of our plastics will
go far to resolve our immediate marketing crisis.

A much larger problem for plastics recycling looms on the horizon,
however, caused by recent developments in the beverage industry. As
you may have noticed, bottlers are increasingly turning to the use of
plastic for their soft drinks. It's getting harder to find Coke and
Pepsi in an aluminum can in vending machines and convenience stores.
And even Miller Brewing is test marketing beer in PET bottles.

What's the cause of this big push away from high value aluminum and
glass packaging to low value plastics? Simply put, the plastic PET
bottle has brought windfall profits to the soft drink industry.
Plastics Recycling Update estimates the profit margin on a soft drink
packaged in PET plastic at more than 21 cents! Not bad, considering
that more than 50 million PET beverage containers are consumed in this
country every day.

This change in packaging has been bad for others, however, including
the groups and organizations that have long used revenues from
aluminum cans to fund projects and events. Consider also our
roadsides, where the aluminum cans that are tossed from cars are
recovered by people who redeem them for cash. Unless we establish a
bottle bill in our state, the plastic bottles will remain in the
ditches year after year, degrading not at all in the elements.

So today we find ourselves with a burgeoning supply of PET bottles
which, while popular with consumers, result in big losses to recycling
businesses and taxpayers because there is little if any demand for

And at this same moment in time there is one simple step the companies
that are reaping these huge profits from the PET bottle could take,
one small decision they could make that would change overnight the
entire landscape of PET recycling across the nation. What is this
small step that could so significantly improve profitability in
plastics recycling and prevent recycling programs from dropping
plastics altogether?

Coca-Cola and Pepsi could choose to do in the United States what they
have been doing in Europe, Australia and elsewhere for many years.
They could use 25% recycled plastic in their bottles, as Coke once
promised to do back in 1990.

The viablility of this option was documented as recently as May 11,
1998 in Plastics News, wherein Ian Roberts, director of package
development for Coca-Cola stated that, "We have all of the
qualifications in place to utilize those materials whenever they're
available to us, both in the United States, Europe and the Far East".

Moreover, Plastics Recycling Update estimates that the use of 25%
recycled plastic would likely cost the industry only an additional
one-tenth of a penny per bottle. Profits would still be 20.9 cents
per bottle, and the demand for recycled PET would increase by more
than one million pounds per day!

Perhaps the biggest losers if plastic bottles must be dropped from the
recycling stream will be those of us who are careful to recycle all
that we can. With the recent addition of paper and cardboard to our
recycling program, and the $1 per bag disposal rate offered by several
local haulers at their drop-off sites, many residents have been able
to reduce their garbage to a mere $2 or $3 per month.

We earnestly hope that the soft drink industry giants step up to the
plate soon and do their part to conserve our nation's resources, and
affirm to the 200 million Americans who recycle every day that our
finite petroleum resources have value, and should not be squandered.

If you'd like to encourage the soft drink industry to use recycled
content in their bottles, you can drop a note, or better yet mail an
empty plastic PET bottle, rinsed out and with the cap back on, to M.
Douglas Ivester at One Coca-Cola Plaza, Atlanta, GA 30313. The
postage required is only 55 cents. Tell them to Take-It-Back & Reuse

Anne Morse is a solid waste specialist with Winona County, Minnesota