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 still are 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.''
At NPE 1997, held June 16-20 at McCormick Place in Chicago, the whistle blowing — or hooting — continued. A group of five members of Greenpeace, including one person dressed as an owl, protested the plastics industry's use of PVC.
Inside the convention center, opinions about the industry were decisively more positive. More than half of nearly 1,500 people polled at NPE 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 Engineering Polymers said the industry's public image has 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. 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 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 firm 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. wonders how the industry got a reputation for producing ``high-pollution'' products. He'd like to see a more aggressive industry effort to dispel that 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 Inc. and the American Plastics Council; only 8 percent were against. But half of those who responded either were undecided about the merger of the Washington-based trade groups, or had no opinion.
Combining SPI and APC would 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.
He'd like to see more done to educate the public about the total life-cycle cost of producing plastics vs. other materials. That would involve comparisons of not only recycling, but such things as the energy consumed in producing 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 probably is perceived as biased because of its name and industry association. He likes APC's ``Plastics Make it Possible'' campaign and said the group is viewed by the public as more neutral than SPI.
Sholtis of Plastic Molding Technology is not sure how much good would come of an SPI/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.''