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Let's hear from some plastophobes

By: Don Loepp

August 5, 2013

There's a lot of creative effort being expended on a message that's critically important to the plastics industry.

It's from people who want to see plastics disappear.

The plastics industry has had critics for decades. That's not new. But there are huge efforts underway to get plastics banned — especially single-use products.

The plastics industry may be big and powerful, but I'm not sure that Goliath is beating David right now.

The plastics industry is proud of its victories in the legislative bag-ban battles around the country. But take a look at some of the messages out there and you will realize that this is an issue that's going to be around a long time.

And it's not going to be just about plastic bags.

For example, there's a video titled "This Should Be A Real Commercial For Plastics," with people saying things like "I wish that I could suffocate a pelican."

All sorts of single-use plastic products are highlighted — not just bags.

Or the cartoon from Jen Sorensen titled "The Right to Bear Bags," where a pretend spokesman for the plastics industry defends "your right to carry individually-wrapped slices of American cheese in a plastic package in a plastic bag."

Plastics industry consultant Allan Griff coined the word "plastophobe" to describe people who want to ban plastics. He worries about people who demonize all plastics, dropping in references to cancer and hormones, without any context.

This isn't a debate about good plastics vs. bad plastics anymore.

Are the majority of people in favor of banning plastics? Definitely not — no one wants to give up their car, or their iPhone, or their computer, or safe medical devices.

But there's a battle going on right now to turn public sentiment against single-use plastics that people can do without — extra packaging, disposable cups, and the like.

Griff sent me a note after he watched a recent TED Talk about plastic marine debris, and he wrote: "The public wants things to disappear (biodegrade) unless they are glass or rocks, and they don't know/care about the environmental impact of degradation. That the beverage containers don't float (hence they 'disappear') doesn't matter either; they are plastic, hence creation of the corporate and chemical devils.

"I don't expect to change these public views. What I do want to explore are the reasons why the public is so primed to bash plastics. Is it a combination of fear of science (which is the counter to magic), fear of chemistry, fear of corporations, or a need to distract from the quantities of things we consume?"

Griff is a deep thinker. I think he's on the right track when he tries to explore the thinking behind the plastophobe philosophy.

I suspect a big part of the problem is that few people associate plastics with "good" products. And, of course, we're always most likely to hear from people who feel strongest about the issue.