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VOICE YOUR OPINION

September 2003

Take a Close Look at Plastics

by Grahame Watts, City of Thousand Oaks, California

Plastic is not always so fantastic. I am not suggesting that plastics be removed from society or that they do not play a vital role in protecting lives and in many instances making some tasks of our lives simpler and more convenient. It is however important to note that plastic, petroleum based product is times a very wasteful and dangerous. What is most disturbing about plastic is that the industry and the American Plastics Council (APC) are doing little or nothing to improve the situation. Consider the following:

• The average recovery rate for all materials in the waste stream is 30 percent with the paper-recycling rate at 45 percent. The metals recycling rate is 34 percent and the glass recycling rate is at 23 percent. Why is the plastics recycling rate at a dismal 6 percent?

• Plastics represent one of the fastest growing sectors of the overall waste steam. Plastics generated sales in excess of 32 million tons in 1990 and over 52 million tons in 2000. That's an increase of over 20 million tons!

• Most plastics are not recycled. In fact of the seven types, only two PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) recycled in any real degree in California. The other plastics (#3 - 7) only contaminate PET and HDPE recycling, decreasing the market value of the sorted plastic. Contamination increases the cost of collection for local government through lost revenues and increased expenses.

As a manager of a city recycling program I know that the public is willing to do more but the question is whether the industry is prepared to do anything other than spend millions of dollars on slick advertising campaigns. The latest campaign by the APC uses humor and emotion to point out the role of plastics in safety and medical innovations. The $19 million campaign (lowest amount spent in 11 years) uses four television, five radio and six magazines ads to be placed in nation, consumer-oriented media.

Clearly, more can be done but instead of pushing the issue aside and trying to get the public to believe plastic is the save all solution to safety, convenience and medical innovation, plastic pollution can and should be reduced. It has gotten so bad that recent evidence, as reported by the EPA has concluded that animals are ingesting plastic thinking its is food, which blocks the digestive track, imbeds in soft tissues and fills stomachs leading to either an inability to eat or no desire to do so.

It is time the manufacturers of plastic take an increased role and responsibility for the generation of plastics, especially wasteful and unnecessary packaging. Local government is done its part to set up a collection infrastructure, so its time APC do something to improve the plastics recycling market other than developing million dollar misinformation campaigns.

Reference to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring or disfavoring by AR Publishing Co. The opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of AR Publishing Co.

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