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Slavin uses social-media to keep plastics dialogue honest

By: Bill Bregar

October 10, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (Oct. 10, 1 p.m. ET) — Facebook and Twitter may seem alien to small manufacturers, but they are in a good position to deliver the truth about plastics, said Chandler Slavin, who scans social media for Dordan Manufacturing Co., her family’s custom packaging thermoformer.

Slavin, who began working for Dordan after graduating from college three years ago, has become a noted authority on social media. She blogs, tweets and posts on Facebook. She scans the Internet for people taking cheap shots at plastics, and responds.

She brought her message to the SPE Thermoforming Conference in Grand Rapids, delivering a rapid-fire speech Sept. 24 that summarized the history of plastics and the “new packaging world order” of social media.

The Internet may seem to be dominated by people who can shout the loudest, but Slavin said the broad middle ground of people are willing to listen to industry, and consider science-based arguments. But, she said, the big trade associations face a disadvantage in the blog-a-sphere. “People can look at them and already think they have a built-in bias,” she said. “With our industry, we’re family-owned. We’re medium-sized. We have a little bit more, I guess, of legitimacy.”

Slavin is sustainability coordinator and marketing manager for Dordan, in Woodstock, Ill. She thinks plastics trade associations should work together more closely, but said putting out the industry’s message about plastics, and countering critics, comes one person, one company, at a time.

When an audience member asked her how thermoformers can collectively counter what can seems to be a one-sided battle against plastics, she described social media as more word-of-mouth than run by a committee: “I would suggest that everybody do it themselves. If you don’t have a person who is at all engaged with social media, you can’t be there to rebuke.”

The word gets passed along, retweeted, around the world. She gave a case study. She was looking at her Twitter feed several weeks ago when she found one from a group called Teens Turning Green that has more than 3,000 followers. “And, a lot of people were listening that day when they tweeted “Plastics are cheap, nasty and toxic.”

Slavin followed the link to a website advertising “green” beauty products, and there she found a blog post titled “Plastics are Forever” which touched on plastics ocean debris and other topics, in what she called a “reductionist and uninformed treatment of plastic and the environment.”

At the same time, she read a PlasticsNews.com story about plastic litter found in seabirds. Slavin, who had participated in a panel discussion on ocean debris, did not agree with the assertions.

She posted a rebuttal, titled “Plastics are ‘cheap, nasty and toxic’ HA! Investigation into plastics ocean debris,” and Plastics News featured the discussion in a Perspective column. Then the PN feature got picked up by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s August newsletter.

Slavin’s comments generated more than 20 comments.

She posted her Thermoforming Conference speech on Dordan’s blog, www.recyclingpackaging.org.

In her speech, she said early plastics such as Bakelite were seen as marvels of science and industry. “Today, however, plastics are no longer synonymous with man’s ingenuity but representative of our over-consumptive and disposable society,” she said. Plastics have become cheap and disposable and, too often on the digital maelstrom that is the Internet, just plain evil.