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Plastics Industry Looks To Recycling

October 11, 1990

CHICAGO (AP) _ As public concern mounts over the volume of packing materials, sandwich boxes and yogurt containers en route to landfills, plastic industry leaders have been thinking more about recycling to make the industry’s outlook a little greener.

In a recent survey, nearly 20 percent of Midwestern plastic industry leaders ranked environmental issues as having the greatest future impact on manufacturing. The survey - conducted by the Chicago-based Gary Siegel Organization for the investment firm of Berger, Goldstein Capital Group Inc. - found that the 6,500 industry executives polled cited solid waste disposal, ecological concerns and biodegradable products as top concerns.

″I think it’s a combination of the industry being responsible and realizing that consumers are looking for these kind of recyclable products,″ said Bailey Condrey Jr., spokesman for the Council for Solid Waste Solutions.

″The companies want to maintain their market share by providing what customers want,″ said Condrey, whose Washington-based council consists of 26 plastic-producing companies.

But some environmentalists say the solution is cutting the initial use of plastics, not reusing them.

″I don’t think recycling plastics is the total answer to the waste disposal problem,″ said Kevin Greene, a researcher with the Chicago-based Citizens for a Better Environment. ″First we must cut down on the excessive use of packaging, plastic or otherwise.″

Plastic recycling today involves mostly food service and packaging products made of polystyrene plastic, said James Schneiders, president of National Polystyrene Recycling Co. In the late 1980s, his company opened one of the nation’s first polystyrene recycling plants, in Leominster, Mass.

In recycling, the materials are cleaned and ground into resin pellets, which then are used alone or in combination with virgin materials to produce plastic products.

″We’re really benefiting society in two ways - by reusing materials that still have life in them and by cutting the use of primary material,″ Schneiders said.

Environmentalists still have doubts. Because plastic products are so bulky they are difficult to collect and transport for recycling, Greene said. He also said Food and Drug Administration regulation prohibits the use of recycled products in most food packaging.

″We still favor the use of glass and aluminum,″ Greene said. ″Those products can be recycled into the same food and beverage containers.

Some waste disposal experts say plastics in landfills aren’t that big a problem, however.

″Plastics are among the most innocuous materials in landfills,″ said Allen Blakey, spokesman for the National Solid Waste Management Association. ″In many ways they’re the perfect item to put into landfill because they don’t decay″ and produce toxic byproducts.

Blakey said about 20 percent, or 14.4 million tons, of the waste put in landfills in 1988 came from plastics. Paper products were the largest contributor with 34 percent, he said.

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