WASHINGTON — The president of the American Plastics Council, Red Cavaney, is stepping down Oct. 1 to take a job as head of the Washington-based American Petroleum Institute.
The move comes amid steady downsizing and restructuring in APC — including reducing the group's budget from $60 million to $38 million — and as public pressure that initially spurred creation of the group and its high-profile advertising campaign has lessened.
But Cavaney said APC will remain a strong force in plastics, and he said he is pleased he helped make the group into an organization with ``effective issues management, on a sustainable basis.''
He said APC is likely to seek a new president from outside the organization with the same kind of stature that he brought to the position, as a signal that APC will remain a well-funded representative of resource conservation issues for the industry.
Cavaney said APC plans to move quickly, and hopes to have a new president named this month, or in October at the latest. APC leaders have narrowed it to an ``intermediate list'' but have not begun interviewing potential replacements, he said.
Before joining APC in 1994, Cavaney headed a paper industry trade organization and worked in the White House for several presidents, including as deputy assistant for public liaison for President Reagan, building private sector coalitions to support White House policy.
He also is active in Republican party politics, and earlier this year was named Association Executive of the Year by Association Trends magazine.
Cavaney's tenure at APC was in some ways a Pax Plastica — marked by steady increases in the favorability rating of plastics that boosted it into the same range as competing materials, and by a lack of strong state and local government initiatives that would be detrimental to the industry.
But his regime also coincided with what many recycling advocates consider a moving away from recycling by some of the large virgin-resin producers who fund APC, and by the collapse of talks that could have merged APC with the other large Washington-based industry group, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Tom Rattray, a longtime plastics recycling guru who retired last year as Procter & Gamble Co.'s associate director for environmental quality, said when Cavaney worked for the paper industry, he helped it realize that its product ``was at risk and [it] needed to recycle.''
But Rattray, who said Cavaney is a ``good guy,'' said he did not see a similar transformation in plastic during Cavaney's tenure.
``Recycling and recycled content is not part of the daily operations of the plastic industry — I'm talking the virgin-resin industry,'' Rattray said. ``I don't see and haven't seen any serious commitment from virgin-resin producers to keep recycling going.''
Cavaney rejects that criticism, and said what worked for paper is not necessarily the best solution for plastic.
``When you looked at the industry, you couldn't make the case that just recycling was needed,'' he said. Solving the industry's problems ``rested on creating an awareness of benefits.''
Cavaney said his accomplishments include helping create a ``highly disciplined organization'' that can anticipate problems, implementing a ``team-based'' management approach that ties the organization more closely to its members and the industries they serve, and getting APC to budget levels that are sustainable. About half of APC's budget goes to the ad campaign.
Don Shea, who headed one of APC's predecessor organizations, the Council for Solid Waste Solutions, said Cavaney's arrival at APC ``immediately gave us more access'' to leaders in Washington. Shea, who worked with Cavaney for a year, is now head of the Rubber Manufacturers Association in Washington.
Cavaney said American Petroleum Institute officials noted the ``extraordinary success'' of the plastics industry's issues management and advertising campaign, and they noted that the steel industry has begun a similar ad campaign.
An API spokesman said he did not know why the organization tapped Cavaney, and an API announcement lists only Cavaney's job history. API is a much larger association than APC, with 300 member companies and an $89 million budget.
Cavaney arrived at the plastics job as the industry was beginning to make headway on environmental issues, some observers said.
``The real wars were pretty much subsiding by the time he took over, and I think he kept it that way,'' said Terry Bedell, manager of environmental programs at Clorox Co. in Oakland, Calif. ``He was a very effective spokesperson. He can be a calm voice when under attack.''
Bedell said APC has been supportive of plastics recycling, putting money into the Garten Foundation in Salem, Ore., and other research, but he said he did not disagree with criticisms of some virgin-resin companies' commitment to recycling.
``I think there were a lot of folks who thought they could overcome it with good advertising and public relations,'' Bedell said. ``And to some extent they were right. That's been very effective.''