It's time for our yearly Plastic Globe awards, when we look back and tip our hats to those deserving, undeserving and just plain oddball parties that helped make 1997 unforgettable.
LATRELL SPREWELL ANGER-MANAGEMENT AWARD: To 20-year-old injection molding machine operator Elieza Valentin, who admitted he tried (unsuccessfully) to burn down Tucker Housewares' plant in Leominster, Mass., in February because he was angry about a work assignment.
THE NINE-DAY WAR AWARD: To GE Plastics and Dow Plastics, which on April 9 quickly and quietly settled out of court a fractious, April 1 lawsuit that had Dow alleging GE was stealing trade secrets by poaching its employees in the highly competitive automotive sector. Terms were never revealed.
WHAT'S INSIDE BOX NO. 2? AWARD: To the U.S. Customs Service in Los Angeles, for allowing a shipment of clothing and personal items from Portugal to pass through the port there marked as 20 injection molding machines, priced at $5,000 each. Thankfully, the keepers of the border gates have vowed to improve, after reviewing the recent study by Washington lawyer Robert Branand for the Society of the Plastics Industry.
SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL AWARD: To Coca-Cola Co., for ignoring repeated pleas from 50 environmental groups and a Georgia state senator to reuse Coke bottles voluntarily instead of allowing them to be landfilled. A written plea from the GrassRoots Recycling Network to top Coke officials fell on deaf ears, as did the group's protest outside Coke's Atlanta headquarters. When GRRN complained in March, Coke officials directed all calls to the Georgia Soft Drink Association, which in turn insisted it was an industry issue.
NAME BLAME AWARD: To Solutia Inc., Monsanto Co.'s spinoff of nylon and other chemicals businesses, whose name-picking consultants somehow settled on a moniker that sounds better suited to a product you'd use to remove a pesky stain from a coffee table.
VALUE-ADDED MOLDING AWARD: To Maynard H. Gilbert of Blue Springs, Mo., who a year ago pleaded guilty to cocaine-smuggling charges. He was involved with importing from Bolivia into the United States molded plastic items such as briefcases, luggage, bathtubs and shower stalls that had the pricey, illegal white stuff molded into them.
BART SIMPSON ``EAT MY SHORTS'' AWARD: To Greenpeace, which on July 10 teamed up with members of the Lollapalooza rock festival in Washington to organize a rally outside the White House protesting use of the chemical dioxin. Among the high-brow literature disseminated at the event: leaflets containing a cartoon character with the catchy slogan: ``Dizzy Dioxin says: Eat Me!''
CONSIDER THE SOURCE AWARD: To Gary Larson, retired creator of the Far Side comic strip, who used 100 percent post-consumer PET sheet to make the plastic backer for his annual desk calendar. Larson also maximizes the use of recycled paper in the calendars.
LUCKY TOWN AWARD: To Syracuse, N.Y., where rocker Bruce Springsteen mentioned the plight of some workers injured at the Landis Plastics Inc. plant in nearby Solvay, N.Y., at a Nov. 13, 1996, concert. Months later, the Central New York Labor-Religion Council revealed the Boss had donated $2,211.20 to their cause — half the profit from the sale of T-shirts and other memorabilia at the show.
FORGOTTEN GOAL AWARD: To the National Polystyrene Recycling Co., which shut down its Bridgeport, N.J., plant earlier this year. In addition, the firm's Chicago plant began charging customers 15 cents per pound for recycling food-service PS, and its Corona, Calif., plant has stopped paying for food-service materials delivered from the 10 Western states it serves. The firm's goal of recycling 25 percent post-consumer food-service and packaging PS by 1995 seems long forgotten.
PIT BULL AWARD: To Armstrong World Industries Inc., for clamping its legal jaws into the merger of three competitors — in three different countries — and not letting go. The merger between Sommer Allibert SA and Tarkett AG is a done deal, but Armstrong shows no signs of giving up.
DAVID COPPERFIELD AWARD: To the American Plastics Council for deciding not to release the data from its annual recycling rate study, apparently upset at the way that groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund interpret the figures. APC released the data in previous years, but decided this year to limit it only to industry officials. EDF — which, of course, easily got its hands on a copy anyway — responded with a report titled ``Something to Hide: The Sorry State of Plastics Recycling.''
THE GET EVEN-STEVEN AWARD: To Steven Thompson, who tried to stick it to his old Rohm & Haas Co. bosses by giving the recipes for two impact stabilizers to his new employers, Elf Atochem of North America. Thompson was busted — and later indicted in federal court — after he mailed the information to Elf Atochem headquarters from another Elf Atochem office, allowing officials to track him down by using the number on the office postage meter. For good measure, he also hand-addressed the envelope, which allowed law-enforcement officials to match the script to his employment application.
THE JOHN SMITH NAME-ORIGINALITY AWARD: To the half-dozen or so firms in North America alone operating as Plastech, Plastek, Plas-Tech, or some such derivative. Guess ``Acme'' was already taken.
SEEING PINK AWARD: To Jim Jarosz, the former part-owner of Union Products Inc., known for its plastic pink flamingo, for suing his ex-partners for $6.2 million for what he described as wrongful dismissal.
THERE GOES THE TENURE AWARD: To Al Hodge, who last January left his job as vice president of sales and engineering for extruder maker Davis-Standard to join new competitor American Kuhne, only to change his mind a couple weeks later and take back his old job at Davis-Standard.
BRASS COJONES AWARD: To Ford Motor Co., for its controversial and unprecedented move to back the United Auto Workers members who last February were striking at two plants of Ford seat supplier Johnson Controls Inc. Ford, which had urged JCI to let the UAW unionize those plants, pulled its seat production business and temporarily gave it to JCI arch-rival Lear Corp.
ASLEEP ON THE JOB AWARD: To one of American Plastics Council's chief lobbyists, Daniel Dutko, who spent at least one night as a guest in the White House, during President Clinton's ``slumber party for cash'' days. (APC said Dutko was not dozing on its behalf, but for other clients, during that visit.)
``RESIN IN THE WIND, 1997'' AWARD: To pop star Elton John, for his tribute compact-disc single to the late Princess Diana, which flew out of record stores so fast that industry rumors suggest it contributed to a brief polycarbonate resin shortage.
ALPHABET SOUP AWARD: To the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which in March revealed it had established a new division, the Plastics Molders & Manufacturers Association, to be known henceforth as the PMMA/SME. Let's pray they never merge with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Structural Plastics Division, which would give birth to the PMMA/SME-SPI/SPD!
GOLLY, SGT. CARTER AWARD: To AlliedSignal Films, which actually decided to retain the Gomar name when it bought specialty films manufacturer Gomar Manufacturing Co. Inc. in July. Shazam!
LONG WAY HOME AWARD: To Jim Meinert, for being part of a team that bought back Mequon, Wis.-based mold maker Snider Mold Co. from Lear Corp. five years after selling Snider to ASA Technologies Inc., which then was acquired by Automotive Industries Holding Inc., which itself was then swallowed up by Lear Seating Corp., which then shortened its name to Lear Corp.
IN-YOUR-FACE AWARD: To Stadco Inc. boss, Neil Kadisha, for his bare-knuckled approach with acquired subsidiary HPM Corp. that has stirred up the oft-placid injection molding machinery market. Among Kadisha's provocative moves: slapping rival Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. with a patent lawsuit on the first day of the NPE show.
A RESIN BY ANY OTHER NAME AWARD: To Nylon Engineering Resins' owner Tom Popoli, who in August was found guilty by a U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, Fla., of buying Tepcon-brand acetal resin from Taiwan and selling it in the United States under Hoechst Celanese Corp.'s Celcon brand name. Hoechst was not amused.
NO WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD AWARD: To Union Pacific Railroad, whose performance and safety record following its controversial merger with Southern Pacific last year has been nothing short of abysmal — realizing the worst fears of some of the merger's critics (which include the Society of the Plastics Industry).
TASTIEST HONOR AWARD: To the Industrial Designers Society of America and SPE's Product Design and Development Division, which bestowed edible chocolate plaques upon speakers at their joint ``Bridge the Gap'' design conference in Buffalo in September.
EVELYN WOOD SPEED-READING AWARD: To plastics industry executives, who, in the past year have been treated to the launch of three different auxiliary-equipment publications, the repositioning/relaunch of the former Plastics World magazine, and the promise of at least two new mold-making magazines in the coming year or so.
THE LOOK, UP IN THE SKY! AWARD: Touting the speed of its servo-drive robot — ``the world's fastest-molding robot,'' Yushin America Inc. stops short of claiming the equipment is faster than a speeding bullet. But it did provide a photograph of it flying through the clouds.
WINNERS BEWARE AWARD: To Bryan Custom Plastics, which a few months after being honored as Plastics News' first ``Processor of the Year,'' was acquired by Plastech Engineered Products Inc. for about $128 million. Gordon Lankton, chief of 1997 winner Nypro Inc., says he has no intention of continuing the ``trend.''
LONG ARM OF THE LAW AWARD: To entrepreneur/inventor Carl W. Cooke, who, after leaving a trail of bankrupt companies and skirting numerous legal scrapes during his audacious business career, was, at the time of this writing, being held in federal custody in Grand Rapids, Mich., awaiting two separate trials. Cooke, deported recently from England, faces fraud charges related to a clothing business he ran in Michigan, as well as six felony counts of theft related to a bankrupt injection molding venture in Elkhart, Ind.
THERE GOES MY TIP AWARD: To a 29-year-old bellhop at the Marriott Atlanta Airport Hotel who at 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 15 allegedly pulled a loaded .38-caliber pistol on Stopol Inc. CEO Neil Kruschke Jr. and sales manager Dave Hausmann in the hotel. The dispute was over distribution of company literature to hotel guests who were attending the SPE Thermoforming Division conference. Kruschke suffered a 3-inch cut to the head in a scuffle during which he disarmed the testy bellhop.
LET'S GET OUR STORY STRAIGHT AWARD: To the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., for its on-again, off-again merger talks with APC. What began as a simple proposition — should they merge? — became side-tracked in a running battle within SPI about who should sit on the negotiating team and whether SPI President Larry Thomas should be considered the heir apparent of any merged group. A good example of how not to conduct sensitive discussions.
FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST AWARD: To Joyce Chen Inc., a Billerica, Mass.-based maker of plastic kitchen cutting boards, which paid an $82,500 fine to settle an Environmental Protection Agency complaint that it was making unsubstantiated claims about the antibacterial properties of some of its products.
SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION AWARD: To SPI's Vinyl Siding Institute for a Sept. 30 press release and video package touting its members' trip to Kentucky and Tennessee to spend a week building homes with Habitat for Humanity. The seven-minute video, called ``Hammering in the Hills,'' is a ``must-see'' that includes Habitat volunteers talking about the ``many benefits of vinyl siding,'' according to the VSI release.
WHAT A RELIEF AWARD: To Manuela Aiken, the Canadian pharmacy technician who designed a contoured plastic urine-specimen cup for easier use by women.
LONG OVERDUES AWARD: To the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., for finally (last January) lowering membership dues for processors to an affordable level.
SEEING RED AWARD: To Greenpeace, for sending the Vinyl Institute and other PVC industry supporters into conniptions when the environmentalist group rolled out a bright red logo unjustifiably proclaiming PVC to be ``the poison plastic.''
THE FLAME-FREE AWARD: To Springdale, Ark.-based Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc., for going 12 months without a fire at one of its facilities. The firm has suffered through five fires at various recycling plants since January 1993, including two suspected arsons.
CONGRESSIONAL TRAINING AWARD: To former Lear Corp. spokeswoman Leslie Touma, for repeatedly trying to convince PN reporter Joe Pryweller that speculation about Lear buying Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s instrument-panel business was nothing but an old rumor that didn't merit a story. Wrong. Joe broke the story April 21, with confirmation from Goodyear and the union, that Lear had indeed agreed to buy that business. Touma has since left Lear to pursue a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.