[Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, November 19, 2000]
Coke vs. carpet makers: State interests conflict over plastic
Justin Bachman - Associated Press
Summerville --- The half-ton bales of crushed soda, juice and water bottles reach almost to the ceiling of Mohawk Industries' plastic-recycling plant.
The bottles will eventually become polyester carpet.
But carpet makers --- 80 percent of U.S. carpet is made in northwest Georgia --- can't get enough of the post-consumer PET plastic --- the main ingredient in the millions of plastic bottles filling landfills and littering roadsides nationwide.
''A room of second-graders could see it's crazy --- it doesn't make any sense,'' says Phil Cavin, director of plastic procurement at Mohawk, which uses 200 million pounds of plastic each year to make polyester fiber.
While most people think twice about chucking aluminum cans and newspapers into the garbage, recyclers say Americans have not gotten the message about plastic's recyclability.
A group called Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling hopes to bridge the divide between recyclers and manufacturers and decrease the amount of bottles sent to landfills.
The alliance has received a $150,000 grant from the Turner Foundation and expects financial backing from Dalton-based Beaulieu of America Inc., the third-largest carpet maker. Beaulieu also has struggled to buy the 80 million pounds of PET plastic it uses each year.
The alliance is beginning its effort in Georgia, a unique landscape because of competing corporate interests surrounding recycling. On the other side of the issue is Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, one of the world's biggest purveyors of plastic bottles. Coke officials are leery the new group might push legislators for a ''bottle bill,'' which would add a refundable deposit to plastic bottles sold in Georgia. Ten states and Columbia, Mo., have enacted such laws, which beverage companies have battled vigorously.''It's (bottle bills) a myopic approach to solving the solid-waste problem,'' said Coke spokesman Trey Paris.
In Georgia, the alliance is directed by former Coke Senior Vice President Pierre Ferrari, who says he hopes to meet with Coke Chairman and Chief Executive Douglas Daft next year.
Daft, an Australian and longtime Coke executive familiar with recycling campaigns throughout the world, is seen by many carpet makers and environmentalists as more receptive to the issue than his predecessors.
The alliance will evaluate the ''value chain'' of plastic recycling so that each interested party can see the costs and benefits, Ferrari said. By emphasizing recycling's economic benefits, the group hopes to raise public awareness of the importance, he said.
''It's a little bit idealistic but I think it's possible,'' Ferrari said. ''There are solutions.''