Food packagers that plan to use post-consumer recycled plastics in their packages are eagerly awaiting the final ruling of the Food & Drug Administration that should clarify and speed up the process of gaining the agency's "letter of no objection" (LONO). And the value of that letter should increase as it becomes more defensible. But quickening the process will be the biggest improvement. Floyd Flexon director of worldwide recycling for Johnson Controls Inc. (Manchester MI) says his company waited "a little longer than I expected" to receive its LONO from the FDA. Johnson Controls like other companies anxious to market a new recycled plastic resin needed the LONO to prove to customers that the FDA had no problems with its new non-depolymerization process for recycling post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in bottles. The FDA said that as long as the Supercycle(TM) resin was used in the approved manner impurities would not get into the product such as a soft drink mouthwash or a food. The LONO was well worth the wait. Since December 1994 about 50 million bottles have rolled off blow-molding lines including those at some of JCI's 19 molding plants. Recently a bottler in Atlanta Southeast Atlantic Corp. at least one Pepsi-Cola bottler and a non-beverage bottler were identified as early customers. Now Johnson is in the process of getting Supercycle resin packaging qualified for "hot-fill" juice drink applications and for liquor bottles. Sometimes however the long wait for a LONO turns into a death watch. That's what happened with Packaging Corporation of America (Northbrook IL). Lynn Carter a senior attorney at PCA says it took the company a full year to get a letter from the FDA for its polystrene packaging that included recycled resin. By the time the letter finally arrived PCA had reallocated its new product development funds and the polystyrene packaging product with recycled content had been put on the shelf. The FDA's slow response to the PCA request for a letter "put the brakes on that project" explains Carter. Ed Machuga an official in the FDA's division of petition control says the agency has received three or four requests over the past few years for LONOs for recycled polystyrene packaging for foodservice applications. One of these was from FP Corp. a Japanese company that wanted to sell trays to a Japanese restaurant in New York City. FP approached the FDA because the trays included post-consumer polystyrene. The letter from the FDA to FP indicated the trays for the New York City restaurant would be okay as long as the finished trays were separated from food by a 1-mil thick layer of virgin polystyrene and the trays would be intended to contact food for no longer than six to eight hours at 50°F or below. Joseph Bow president of the Foodservice & Packaging Institute who accompanied FP executives to meetings with FDA officials likened the process to having a baby. "It took about nine months" he recalls.