Price of plastic soars after Gulf hurricanes
Firms cite shutdowns of plants, natural gas costs in big increases
Decades ago before the invention of plastic, Italian pasta makers wrapped their hand-stuffed ravioli in paper tied with a coarse string.
Jay Beattie, a gourmet pasta manufacturer, jokes he may have to revert to his ancestors' choice of packaging. It would be cheaper than plastic, the material he has used for years to package his line of hand-cut fettucini, potato gnocchi, and pumpkin ravioli.
Of all the raw materials that have seen price hikes since hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast -- including plywood, drywall, and metal -- few have been as sharp as the rise in the plastic industry. Prices for the three most common resins used to make plastic have jumped between 20 and 30 percent since August -- compared to post-Katrina increases of 1.8 percent in cement, 2 percent in plywood, and 6.5 percent in structural steel, according to analysts and trade publications.
''Plastic is a huge part of our business. And we're seeing an increase in every single plastic thing," said Beattie, rattling off the different types of containers he uses to package his gourmet goods at Cucina Fresca, the Seattle-based pasta business he owns.
Raw materials of all kinds have been hurt by the spiraling cost of oil, which soared past $70 a barrel in the wake of the hurricane, and natural gas, which went from $10 per million British thermal units to over $14 per million British thermal units.
But plastic suffered from a triple whammy. The first blow came to resin factories, the majority of which are based on the Gulf Coast and were forced to shut down during the storms, creating a backlog. Second and third is the fact that plastic -- unlike wood, cement, and other raw materials -- uses natural gas twice: once to generate the power needed to run the plastic factory and a second time as the key ingredient used to make the plastic resin.