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EITHER WAY, the environment benefits. Last month McDonald's announced that it would replace the plastic clamshell packaging for its hamburgers. Now Coca-Cola and Pepsi say that, subject only to federal approval by the Food and Drug Administration, they will begin recycling plastic bottles next year.

The environment gains from either approach, since either diminishes the amount of new plastic manufactured and then discarded to clog America's landfills.

Experts do voice questions about how effective the recyled plastic will be. The material weakens considerably during the recycling process. Others doubt the economic viability of the whole process.

Still, the plastic recycling industry is optimistic. This change of policy by such massive distributors of plastic bottles as Pepsi and Coke will both test that confidence and
push ahead the learning curve.

In an ideal world, which this isn't, we would prefer to see the soft-drink firms substitute another material, as McDonald's is doing, to recycling.

But recycling can help, too, with plastic as with aluminum and glass containers.

This growing interest in either substituting another material for plastic in containers or in recycling the plastic ought to be fanned so that it will spread to other large firms and products. Any Christmas shopper knows how ubiquitous is the use of plastic, whether the shopper is buying a scarf, a new sander or a refrigerator.

But whether finding a new non-plastic material or recycling plastic to use again, the change responds to growing consumer pressures, and legitimate ones, as well as the desirability of a sounder environment.

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