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Plastics and the State of the Union: More than Marco Rubio's water bottle

By: Don Loepp

February 13, 2013

When you write for Plastics News, you're always looking for plastics angles in national stories.

But I started watching President Obama's State of the Union speech with low expectations. Not for the content of the message or the quality of the rhetoric, but for the relevance to the plastics industry.

Maybe I'm stretching just a little, but there were two solid plastics references.

The best was Obama's mention of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio.

Here's the relevant part:

"Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

"There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There's no reason this can't happen in other towns.

"So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.

"And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America. We can get that done."

Additive manufacturing has been getting a lot of attention the past few years -- it's to the point now where I feel comfortable mentioning it in a story or blog post without pausing to define it.

And while Obama didn't mention "plastics," additive manufacturing is definitely a low-volume plastics manufacturing process. (For some more background on the Youngstown center, read this story from December by Plastics News' Angie DeRosa, "Ohio puts spotlight on additive manufacturing.")

Oh, about that second plastics reference in the State of the Union. It was more subtle, to be sure, but perhaps it's the only thing that we'll remember about the speech, maybe even years from now.

It came in Sen. Marco Rubio's moment in the spotlight, during the Republican response to Obama's speech.

Yes -- the pause and sip from the PET water bottle.

Social media noticed, and so did the political pundits. The Washington Times playfully called the moment "best thing to happen to Poland Spring since the invention of plastic packaging." ("Marco Rubio: Sip of water heard ‘round the world goes unnoticed at Poland Spring")

In a nation where some are calling on the government to ban PET water bottles, Rubio was ... can we say it ... a cool drink of water?