Future unclear for see-through cans

A California-based beveragemaker hopes consumers will get a kick out of its new see-through plastic cans and expand its share of the $40 billion soft-drink industry. Original New York Seltzer Company, which traces it roots to the streets of Brooklyn but is now based in Walnut, Calif., is testing 12-ounce plastic cans this summer in the Detroit area.

``We feel it's a package that shows off the character and quality of our products,'' said Bruce Sweyd, chief operating officer for New York Seltzer, whose sales amounted to about $100 million last year.

The test is also important for Petainer Development Company, the Atlanta-based concern whose pilot plant can produce up to 100 million cans a year with polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic also known as PET. Petainer wants a better reading on its chances for denting the $6.5 billion market that metal dominates in soft-drink and beer cans.

Lars Emilson, chief executive of Petainer, said he is hoping for ``peaceful coexistence between packages,'' but expects a reaction from aluminum-can makers if plastic proves popular with consumers.

Plastic cans are, at the moment, more expensive to produce than metal cans, and concerns have been raised about whether they will be recycled effectively. Mr. Emilson said he expects that the cost of making plastic cans will fall as production moves past the pilot stage and into mass production. Petainer and New York Seltzer have taken steps to ensure that the plastic cans are recycled. One of the reasons they chose Detroit for the test was that Michigan has a container deposit law. Container Recycling Company, based in Romulus, Mich., near Detroit, has agreed to handle the plastic cans.

Critics, however, ask what would happen if plastic cans were sold in states without deposit laws and question whether there are enough uses for recycled PET plastic to make recycling sound on a larger scale. They also point out that although the Petainer cans have plastic bodies, they have aluminum lids that may complicate recycling. ``Recyclability is a big issue,'' said Louis Umsted, vice chairman of American National Can Co. ``It's fine that they have a recycler to participate in the test run, but what if they put 6 billion cans in there?''

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