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It's time once again for our irreverent look at the plastics industry's headlines: our year-end Plastic Globe awards:
BEEFY DRINK AWARD: To Andrew Larkey, an Australian who launched a line of flavored bottled water for dogs on Dec. 2. Dog Plus K-9 flavors include chicken, liver and bacon, or beef. The cost: US$2.10 for a 1.3-pint plastic bottle.
DEDICATED RECYCLERS AWARD: To K&C Recycling, a Los Angeles firm that employed homeless alcoholics by exchanging the bottles and cans they salvaged from the trash for coupons good at a nearby liquor store. At least it did, before the city shut down the operation in March.
SEXIEST GRANULATOR AWARD: Whether catching a cool wave or just smoldering with sex appeal, these granulators are sure to sell, thanks to Rapid Granulator Inc.'s promotional efforts.
ADMIRABLE RESTRAINT AWARD: To Tuff-Tie Inc. of Voluntown, Conn.; Disposable Handcuff Warehouse of Norfolk, Va.; and EZ Cuff of Lake Villa, Ill. The firms make disposable handcuffs of braided nylon, and all three reported booming sales thanks to the war in Iraq. The handcuffs are used overseas by soldiers taking prisoners, and also at home by police arresting antiwar demonstrators.
MOUNT RUSHMORE IS NEXT AWARD: To James Schoepfer, a Connecticut businessman who proposed rebuilding New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain rock formation out of plastic. His company, which makes faux stone for landscaping, figured the project would cost about $100,000. The original, a 40-foot-tall, 700-ton natural monument, was a favorite of tourists before it collapsed in May.
TAP-WATER BLUES AWARD: The International Bottled Water Association has some terrific recipes on its Web site, including a concoction called "orange cream cocoa." It starts with a half cup of "nonsparkling bottled water," and includes hot cocoa mix and some orange peel. Guess it just wouldn't taste the same with tap water.
BILL GATES IS FULL OF IT AWARD: Microsoft Corp. in April won the attention of grateful comedians around the world when it proposed the iLoo: a portable toilet with built-in Internet access. At first the company claimed the project was a joke. But a few weeks later, Microsoft was forced to confess that the project was real. Not anymore, though. After reading the news coverage, the iLoo project went down the toilet.
MAYBE THEY WANT WEB ACCESS AWARD: To police in Starkville, Miss., who in November investigated a series of fires set to portable toilets at construction sites around the city. "They're all made of plastic, and once it goes up, it burns rapidly," a detective said, noting that the crime carries a sentence of five to 20 years.
BIG ONE AWARD: Guilin Latex Co. in Guilin, China, commissioned a PVC condom that was 260 feet high to showcase sexual and reproductive health issues for World Population Day. The company applied to the Guinness Book of Records to sanction the condom as the world's biggest prophylactic.
SIZE DOESN'T MATTER AWARD: To all the trade show organizers that reported attendance was down this year. The common theme: the numbers were lower, but the quality of the audience was excellent.
HOORAY FOR TOM RIDGE AWARD: Some processors reported a surge in business thanks to the Department of Homeland Security's recommendation that people protect their homes from terrorism with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Intertape Polymer Group noted in a February news release that "not all duct tape is created equal," and encouraged consumers to check the density of threads, thickness, flexibility and moisture resistance to make sure their purchase could stand up to the job.
MADE IN FRANCE AWARD: Residents of Lyon, France, found 10,000 fake dog droppings littering their sidewalks in November, courtesy of city officials. The bright-red, plastic droppings were meant to remind residents to comply with the new pooper-scooper law. According to an AP report, "despite the new laws, the sidewalks of France's major cities remain pungent minefields of canine excrement."
HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES AWARD: To 31 workers at Erie Plastics Corp. in Corry, Pa., who missed winning an $86 million Powerball jackpot by one number. They had five correct numbers, plus number 19, instead of 53. Their ticket was worth quite a bit less than the grand prize - just $25,000, or $500 each, after taxes. That's not quite enough to retire on.
REALLY BAD PR AWARD: To BlindCraft Edinburgh in Scotland, where 70 blind and disabled workers went on strike in November to publicize financial troubles at the PVC window maker. The firm is owned by the Edinburgh City Council.
DON'T CRY FOR ME, KENNETH DART, AWARD: The secretive Dart Container Corp. tycoon in September won a $700 million lawsuit against Argentina in a dispute over the country's decision to default on its bonds in 1991. This guy must have some pretty good lawyers.
BEST ARGUMENT FOR BEER IN PLASTICS AWARD: Plastic surgeon Professor Jonathan Shepherd of the University of Wales College of Medicine urged United Kingdom pubs and clubs to switch from glass to plastic beer bottles to cut down on street violence. He estimated the switch would prevent thousands of injuries each year caused by drunken brawls. "We need to get glass bottles off the streets where they are too often used as weapons," he told BBC News. A spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association rejected the call, saying: "If people want to fight, they will find a weapon - or they will bring it with them. Beer does not keep in plastic bottles."
PARANOIA AWARD: Rapak Asia Pacific brought in five ministers to bless a factory in Auckland, New Zealand, after the facility suffered a suspicious fire and other mishaps. According to a news report, many of the 125 factory workers believed the site was haunted or built on an ancient Maori burial ground.
TIME FOR A PLASTICS EDUCATION AWARD: To BusinessWeek magazine, which in a September profile of the new GM Cadillac roadster appeared a bit confused about lightweight materials used in the auto industry. "The [Cadillac] XLR has plenty of interested consumers," the magazine noted. "And buyers don't seem to mind shelling out $40,000 for a Corvette, which once boasted a fiberglass body, but now has evolved to use mostly plastic composites."
THE PRICE WASN'T RIGHT AWARD: To city officials in Grand Island, Neb., who turned down free PVC pipe from Diamond Plastics Corp. for water main line extensions to about 50 homes.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? AWARD: To deposed Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who paid the bills as a college student in the 1970s by working at Sweetheart Plastics, a toy factory in Massachusetts, according to the Daily Telegraph in London. Taylor later returned home and took control of his country in a bloody war. He was indicted in June by a United Nations court for his part in the conflict, which killed several hundred thousand Liberians. He's now in exile in Nigeria.
SAY WHAT? AWARD: To Rep. Cass Ballenger, owner of Plastic Packaging Inc. in Hickory, N.C. The congressman told the Charlotte Observer earlier this year that his marriage broke up in part because of the stress of living near the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. Ballenger called CAIR a fund-raising organization for terrorists; CAIR responded by suing him for defamation. Last year, Ballenger got in hot water for saying that an African-American member of Congress stirred "a little bit of a segregationist feeling" in him.
GIVE BACK THAT GOLD WATCH AWARD: To Harold Faig, who enjoyed perhaps the world's shortest retirement when he left Milacron Inc. on Sept. 30 and the very next day was named the top executive at Arizona-based injection molder Tech Group Inc.
WE'LL BELIEVE IT WHEN WE SEE IT AWARD: To 75-year-old Robert Schad, who has started talking about a timetable for his retirement from Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd.
GO NAKED AWARD: To Milacron Inc. for its bold decision not to take any machines to NPE 2003. The radical move caused a stir, but time will tell if anybody else dares try such an iron-free diet.
YO-YO AWARD: To Van Dorn Demag Corp., which laid off its marketing communications manager and eliminated his position, then rehired him - only to show him the door a second time.
MORE EVIDENCE CHINA IS KICKING OUR BUTTS AWARD: To VDMA, the German machinery association, which said China probably will dethrone the United States as the No. 1 market for German plastics and rubber equipment this year.
HEY, LET'S BE PARTNERS! NOW GIVE ME YOUR WALLET AWARD: To machinery maker SMS Plastics Technology, which this fall asked suppliers for rebates - retroactive to mid-2002 - and for price cuts for 2004 and 2005.
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM CHINA AWARD: To Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick for putting a 15-foot-tall PVC tree, made in China, on the floor of the legislature. Texas tree growers said real trees have decorated the House chamber during the holidays for 20 years.
OOPS, WE FORGOT THE SHREDDER AWARD: To Chicago equity firm Madison Capital Partners for denying the authenticity of a letter to investors announcing the purchase of Synventive Molding Solutions Inc. Mere weeks after vehemently blasting the letter as a fake and saying it had no deal in the works, the firm completed the acquisition. Oh, you meant that letter...
UNFAIR TO RODENTS AWARD: To Widnes, England-based Sorex Ltd., which started marketing a line of chocolate-scented plastic mousetraps. The injected molded traps attract mice without any bait. Why chocolate? Experts at the University of Warwick determined that rodents prefer them to similar devices scented with cheese.
THIN AIR OF CYBERSPACE AWARD: To plastics dot-com Omnexus, which engineered an agreement to use Platt's News Service as a source for content on its site. Just weeks after ballyhooing the new agreement as giving the company greater news breadth, investors pulled the plug on Omnexus and left Platt's holding an empty bag.
SAM I AM AWARD: To the former Wisconsin chapter of mold makers' fair-trade group Save American Manufacturing, which in June formed a splinter organization. The original Chicago-area group, called SAM, excommunicated the chapter, called SAMNOW, leaving SAM and SAMNOW to compete for members to fight what they both see as unbalanced trade with China. The news reportedly was greeted with guffaws in Beijing.
SHORT TENURE AWARD: To automotive injection molding giant Collins & Aikman Corp., which in August made former Reagan administration budget director David Stockman its third top executive in little more than a year, after the departures of former CEOs Jerry Mosingo and Tom Evans.
URBAN STREET PARTY AWARD: To attendees of the Industrial Designers Society of America convention in August, who spent a night on the sidewalks of Times Square during the power blackout. The convention's hotel expelled all its guests onto the streets for some 18 hours after its backup generators failed.
THANKS FOR THE GREAT WORK AWARD: To agricultural equipment maker Case LLC, which celebrated its winning of a top design award last spring by promptly terminating (for cost reasons) many of the project's designers and engineers.
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS AWARD: To the American Mold Builders Association and Mexico's mold builders. A few years ago, Mexico was the target of some U.S. mold makers' competitive ire. Next spring, AMBA is holding its annual convention in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where the parties will share notes on how to compete with China.
QUIP OF THE YEAR AWARD: To John Weeks, president and CEO of Precise Technology Inc., commenting about expansion-minded former employer Nypro Inc. Weeks had just gazed through a high-powered telescope during an industry event last January: "I really enjoyed looking at Saturn. Did any of you happen to see the Nypro plant up there?"
BEWITCHING HISTORY AWARD: The National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass., hosted a Fantasy Fair and Witches Ball this fall for a group of local Wiccans. Hosting the activities gives the museum public exposure. We understand, though, that there's no truth to the rumor that instead of charging for the space, some Massachusetts processors asked the witches to put a hex on Chinese molders.