AKRON, OHIO—The next 25 years could be the best of times or the worst of times for the vinyl industry, according to a report released at the World Vinyl Forum.
Vinyl can be a major building block for the 21st century, but the industry needs to take public attitudes into account because of consumer and environmental activism and advocacy, according to the report, titled ``Vinyl 2020: Progress, Challenges and Prospects for the Next Quarter Century.''
Gary Gappert, a professor with the University of Akron's Institute for Future Studies & Research, and two contributors mapped out several scenarios for the industry in the report, including one that would have the $18 billion industry reach $61 million in value by 2020.
In that scenario, vinyl growth would rise significantly faster than world growth, a possibility tied into vinyl's heavy concentration in construction and automobiles, which are two areas that expand rapidly when economic growth increases.
Another scenario, which includes strong environmental restrictions, increased production costs and the banning of vinyl in some countries, predicts a value of only $23 billion in 2020.
Gappert compared vinyl's position to that of glass in the 1890s, when it was a material whose potential was about to explode.
Expansions in housing applications and product development in Third World and former Soviet Union countries could fuel this growth, according to Gappert.
Although Gappert dismissed most of the environmental challenges as ``hokum'' that do not stand up when challenged, he maintained in the report the industry needs to address them to avoid increased government involvement.
``The choice is very clear between self-correction and self-policing or externally imposed controls,'' Gappert wrote.
These concerns were echoed by several industry leaders who spoke at the forum.
Fred Krause, environmental solutions director for Geon Co. of Avon Lake, Ohio, rebutted several common claims made against vinyl, including biodegradability.
``The public thought biodegradability meant automatic disposal, but most of our products can't be biodegradable to do their jobs,'' said Krause, a 40-year industry veteran who will retire this year while continuing to work for the Chlorine Chemistry Council. ``You want pipe and siding to last.''
Many anti-vinyl attacks are ``signs of desperate people who are misguided and refuse to take the time to learn the truth about vinyl,'' according to Ervin Schroeder, vice president of Houston-based Shintech Inc.
John Baechle, president and chief operating officer of RJF International Corp. of Fairlawn, Ohio, said his firm focuses on educating both employees and customers, particularly to get the message across that ``vinyl saves lives'' through its medical and industrial uses.
RJF plants in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania make vinyl wall coverings and weatherstrip.
``If you need a reason to discuss the issues facing the industry, it's the people you employ,'' Baechle said. ``Unless we collectively begin to tell our story now, we may be extinct before we realize it.''
``Vinyl 2020'' was commissioned by the Vinyl Institute of Morristown, N.J., a unit of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry. The report, completed last summer, was released for the first time at the forum.