WASHINGTON-After three years of an extensive, $18 million television and print media advertising campaign dedicated to showing plastics' end-user benefits, the American Plastics Council wants to change direction. Its new plan calls for it to promote the ``personal relevance'' of plastics in a grass-roots education campaign. America understands the health, safety and shatterproof qualities of plastic, but it still fails to value source reduction, the recapture of energy and the reuse benefits of the material, according to APC research.
APC illustrates its plight with a new chart with two halves divided by a line marked ``Consumer/User Choice.'' The top half has ``Benefits with personal relevance'' and lists the elements understood by most Americans. On the other half are ``Benefits not yet valued.''
The object is to move these latter items onto the ``relevance'' side of the equation.
As plastics have risen in the public's estimation, so now must APC capitalize on that improvement and increase public perception of otherwise obtuse advantages of the material.
According to results of an APC survey conducted by polling firm Wirthlin Group of Washington, the favorability of the plastics industry was indexed at 52.1 on a scale of 1-100 in the eyes of the general public in August 1992. That is when APC began its ads featuring such obvious advantages of plastic as use in children's football helmets. From then until November 1993, plastics' favor rose to 60.7 percent, where it has more or less stayed since.
Credit that, said Red Cavaney, APC's Washington-based president and chief executive, to the advertising campaign.
Cavaney has four major goals to achieve in the latest program iteration: a level playing field for plastics in relation to competing materials, an atmosphere in which plastics are not disadvantaged, a feeling that plastic is an ``ultimately preferred material,'' and gaining a favorable view of plastics generically, he said in a Sept. 7 interview.
Accomplishing these goals certainly will involve an effort by the plastics industry to show its commitment to recycling, he said. But in an Aug. 15 speech before the Plastivida conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said the industry also must show its commitment to building on the public's ``underlying and strong emotional appeal to waste prevention,'' which has not been accorded the same level of political cachet associated with recycling.
``If recycling remains the only measure - and economic and environmental expectations for recycling remain unrealistically inflated - then we will all be doomed to environmental failure and disappointment from the very outset,'' Cavaney said.
But statistics also show Cavaney has his work cut out for him.
For example, APC's annual survey of interest group perception performed by Cambridge Reports/Research International of Cambridge, Mass., asked the question: ``If you had to choose a single option that would best conserve resources and help the environment, would you choose recycling, reuse, conservation or source reduction?''
Some 48 percent of government respondents and 49 percent of plastics industry customers chose recycling. Only 13 percent of each group chose reuse, and only 8 percent chose conservation. Also in both cases, 28 percent chose source reduction.
Heartening to the APC is the response to the question by media respondents. Some 38 percent of that group chose source reduction, the same percentage as recycling.
Only 11 percent of the media group chose reuse as the best single option, and only 9 percent chose conservation.