U.S. business leaders have long complained about complex and often unnecessary red tape imposed by Washington. President Donald Trump has made reducing regulation a centerpiece of his accomplishments in his first year in office.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised that his administration would require federal agencies to repeal two rules for each new rule they propose. Business owners and managers are big fans of the idea. For small manufacturers like plastics processors, deregulation may be even more appealing than tax reform.
But here's a reminder that good plastics companies won't need: Keeping workers safe needs to remain your top priority.
I've personally visited many processors that put a huge emphasis on safety. It's also an issue that we stress each year when we judge our Processor of the Year award. But we've also experienced some reluctance of industry leaders to talk candidly about worker safety and government regulations. OK, no one wants to be perceived as being in favor of less safe workplaces, especially when they could face future lawsuits in the event of an accident.
But even if agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration become weaker in the future, it's still critically important that processors work together with their suppliers, workers, regulators and trade groups to make sure the plastics industry is a leader in worker and community safety.
We've published our editorial agenda in the first issue of Plastics News every year since 2001, and we've been consistent in saying that safety must be every company's top priority. That includes keeping workers safe and making products that consumers can use with confidence.
Our agenda is the foundation for our weekly opinion columns, and it offers a blueprint for a prosperous and sustainable plastics industry. With the start of a new year, Plastics News updates and restates its editorial agenda:
• Consumers, regulators and legislators have a responsibility to deal with plastics-related issues without bias. Bans and taxes that encourage replacing plastic products with less sustainable alternative materials must be discouraged.
• Fairness and honesty should be key parts of business relationships. Would your mother be proud of the way you do business? If not, you'd better re-evaluate your efforts.
• For too long, plastics have suffered from an image problem. The industry must combat misinformation by highlighting the benefits of plastics.
• Sustainability is a priority. Profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive concepts — true sustainability will result in long-term health for the plastics industry. Companies should consider sustainability when making decisions about resource utilization, including material selection and energy use.
• Recycling must be encouraged. Americans have become too comfortable in their habit of throwing away used plastics items. Products should be designed to take into account recycling, source reduction, health and pollution issues. Where practical, single-use plastics should be recycled, incinerated for energy or at the very least landfilled — not become litter or marine debris.
The industry should support state and national bottle bills since bottle-deposit programs have proved effective in collecting a clean, valuable recycling stream.
• Companies and their leaders should take an active role in their communities and in trade groups. Local officials need to be aware of the plastics industry's size and importance, so they know that plastics are a significant employer and contributor to the local, national and global economies.
• The industry should speak with a unified voice. This requires cooperation at all levels of the leading trade associations, as well as international and regional groups and with business, consumer and environmental organizations.
• The free market is the best mechanism for raising the standard of living, encouraging democracy and rewarding hard work. Free trade encourages efficiency and inspires stability around the world. Government tax policies should motivate entrepreneurs and investors, help industry compete globally and strive for fairness.
• All sectors of the plastics industry must recruit and retain talented workers. That means paying a fair wage and offering attractive benefits. Having a well-trained and flexible workforce is a competitive advantage, so employers should support education and training. Employers also should embrace diversity in their workforces, including opportunities for women.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of The Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.