Your favorite local daily newspaper may have printed some nasty anti-plastics propaganda this month.
The experience was a result of sloppy journalism. Sharp newspaper environmental writers know better than to print unsubstantiated claims about the danger of any product.
But the fact that this story slipped through the cracks at so many news organizations indicates, once again, the need for the plastics industry to speak with a firm, convincing voice on important environmental issues.
Greenpeace on May 4 announced its affiliation with a credit card in the United States made with a biodegradable plastic resin. The card is similar to one that Greenpeace backed in June 1997 but which, at the time, was available only to British consumers.
As with the British card, Greenpeace gets a percentage of every purchase made with this new Greenpeace Mastercard, which will be issued by Household Bank of Prospect Heights, Ill.
Several wire services picked up the announcement, including the Associated Press. Newspapers across the United States and Canada ran those wire stories. While some newspapers toned down Greenpeace's anti-PVC rhetoric, none that we've seen removed it completely, and none included any reaction from the vinyl industry.
For example, most published this description: ``The card is made with a plant-based polymer that looks and feels like plastic but doesn't harm the environment.''
That certainly implies that ``regular'' plastics do harm the environment, which is alarming. Also, it accepts at face value that this new material does not harm the environment. Says who? These newspapers apparently didn't even bother to find out what the material is.
It may not dawn on most editors, but you don't make biodegradable polymers simply by grinding corn.
The AP wire story said PVC ``releases harmful dioxin, a known carcinogen.'' That's enough to scare rational newspaper readers, who can just imagine their credit cards releasing dioxin willy-nilly in their purses and wallets.
Some newspapers included even more strident rhetoric. The Durham, N.C., Herald-Sun, for example, called PVC ``the poison plastic'' — parroting the moniker assigned to vinyl last year by Greenpeace. Again, no industry sources were quoted.
Lest you think that just a handful of small newspapers picked this up, check out this incomplete list of papers that ran a one-sided version of the story: USA Today, Washington Times, Newsday, Detroit News, Ottawa Citizen, Wisconsin State Journal, Calgary Herald, Roanoke Times & World News.
We can't imagine that most consumers will give up their beloved vinyl credit cards as a result of this story. You probably could convince people to use credit cards manufactured from recycled steel from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
But these types of stories leave a lasting impression with some readers that PVC is a dangerous, cancer-causing material. That notion imperils the entire plastics industry, and shows the need for a swift, logical and credible response.