For years, we've lived with North American misuse of the word Styrofoam.
But instead of correcting people, maybe the real solution is to give them a better name for the product.
How about a cutesy name? The Europeans have come up with one: Airpop.
It's surprising, really, because the Europeans don't have the same polystyrene problem that's so commonplace in the United States and Canada. Over here, if you stop someone on the street and ask them the name of the plastic used to make expanded polystyrene coffee cups, egg cartons and foam packaging, I guarantee that more than 90 percent will call it 'styrofoam."
Even Plastics News has been forced to use the term incorrectly a couple of dozen times over the last 25 years. Most often, the problem is when an elected official gives us a quote using the wrong term. So we're stuck — either we the wrong word, or we don't use the quote.
The fact is, Styrofoam is a Dow Chemical Co. trademark, for extruded polystyrene insulation. Not drink cups.
Enter the Europeans with a possible solution.
At the Interpack trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, last week, a group called the European Manufacturers of Expanded Polystyrene (EuMEPS), helped launch a promotional campaign aimed at getting the public to start calling expanded PS "Airpop."
“But why give a new name to an internationally established material like EPS?” Eumeps asked. “Simply because the name Airpop immediately brings to mind what the material is made of — It’s air.
"A lot of air. 98 percent air, to be precise. And just a tiny fraction is made of synthetic material, which expands to 50 times its own volume. To protect everything that needs to be protected: our children’s heads, TVs, fresh fish and thousands of other things."
The effort uses graphics and a creative concept developed by Ogilvy & Mather, a PR firm with an office in Frankfurt, Germany. The campaign promotes the Airpop name and the benefits of EPS.
Our colleagues at European Plastics News asked today, will Airpop catch on?
Let's put it this way — how many of you tell your buddies you want to play catch with a flying disc (instead of a Frisbee)? Or when you put together a grocery list, you include facial tissues and gelatin dessert?
And don't even get me started on those personal watercraft toys that people buzz around on. It seems like everyone has a name for those — and every one of them is a trademark for a specific brand!
You get the idea. Once a trademarked term is embraced by the public, it's pretty tough to swim against the tide. I expect Airpop to be a short-lived idea, but I hope I'm wrong.