CHICAGO — Don Krakow is frustrated. The molding manager for WNA Cups Illustrated Inc. in Lancaster, Texas, contends that the public has a good opinion of the plastics industry. But he complains that too many media reports are still generated by ``headline grabbing'' environmentalists who don't know what they're talking about.
``I think plastic uses are so vast that people are starting to ignore the environmentalists,'' Krakow said. ``They see them as somebody who is blowing the whistle for no reason.''
This week at NPE 1997, the whistle blowing — or hooting — continued. A group of five members of Greenpeace, including one person dressed as an owl, protested the plastic industry's use of PVC outside McCormick Place.
Inside the convention center, where North America's largest plastics trade show is being staged, opinions about the industry are decisively more positive. More than half of nearly 1,500 people polled this week in the DuPont plastics industry survey said the plastics business is doing enough, or even more than enough, to improve its image. Only 2 percent surveyed by DuPont said the industry's public image had deteriorated in the past year.
The industry is getting its message out, said Charles Sholtis, vice president with Plastic Molding Technology Inc. in Seymour, Conn.
``The plastics industry has really increased the public image of the industry, especially the American Plastics Council,'' he said. ``They've done a lot more than ever before.''
Industry has been doing a ``super'' job of grappling with environmental issues, especially in the food packaging sector, said Joe Walton, president of Walton/Stout Inc. (Booth E9129) of Lithonia, Ga.
But there are some areas where misperceptions remain, he said.
``A lot of the throwaways on the side of the highway aren't plastic soft drink bottles, they're `Miller Time — All the Time,'' Walton said. ``We're getting blamed for other people's trash.''
Lauren Sams would like to see more done to educate the public about the benefits of plastic and its recyclability. The president of Premier Plastics Equipment Sales Inc. in Lenexa, Kan., said the industry is still fighting a misperception by some that it is low-tech.
``We're going to have to see a change in that, especially in the manufacturing area,'' Sams said.
Some NPE attendees concede that plastics still get a bad rap. The industry's image might improve as better products are introduced, said John Howard, an engineer with Goody Products Co., a consumer products company in Manchester, Ga.
``I like green trees and clean water,'' he said. ``I think we need to come up with more new environmentally friendly materials.''
Steve Maguire of Media, Pa.-based Maguire Products Inc. (Booths S163, S167, S263) wonders how the industry got a reputation for producing ``high-pollution'' products. He'd like to see a more-aggressive industry effort to dispel this image.
``At the grocery store when baggers ask people for paper or plastic, people say, `Oh no, I don't want plastic because it pollutes,' even though paper weighs 10 times more than plastic and is made with a more-polluting process,'' Maguire said.
In the DuPont survey, 42 percent of those polled were in favor of the proposed merger of the Society of the Plastics Industry and the American Plastics Council. Only 8 percent were against. But half of those who responded to the poll at McCormick Place either were undecided about the merger of the Washington-based trade groups, or had no opinion.
Combining SPI and APC will help the industry get the message out that plastics is not a threat to the environment, said Erik Fyrwald, director of automotive engineering materials for DuPont (Booth S2411). He'd like to see more done to educate the public about the total life cycle cost of producing plastics vs. other materials.
``I think we can continue to improve,'' Fyrwald said. ``I think we as an industry bring a lot of value to society that is still not fully appreciated.''
But Donald Witenhafer would rather see APC go it alone. The materials consultant from Dublin, Ohio, said SPI would likely be perceived as biased because of its name and industry association. He likes the APC's ``Plastics Make it Possible'' campaign and said the group would be viewed by the public as more neutral than SPI.
Sholtis of Plastic Molding Technology is not sure how much good will come of a SPI and APC combination.
``The merger doesn't matter to me either way,'' he said. ``I don't think it will make much of a difference, either good or bad,'' he said.