WASHINGTON — What's at stake for the industry as a whole in the conflict between the heavyweights of the plastics lobbying world, the American Plastics Council and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.?
Interviews with industry officials suggest what could suffer is the success of the industry's state outreach and grass-roots efforts, SPI's ability to recruit smaller processors and the industry's Food and Drug Administration work.
Predicting how it will shake out is tough. Both Washington-based groups pledge to put differences behind them, and some company members say the impact can be managed. Others are not so sure.
``It will be difficult for the two organizations to share representation of the plastics industry,'' said Pat Jack, the immediate past chairman of SPI, president of Aristech Chemical Co. and an APC board member. ``When you have two people representing what the average person sees as one plastics industry, I don't like it.''
The greatest risk is in FDA approval work, Jack said. When FDA wants to review new food packaging or medical devices, for example, it wants to talk with the entire production chain, including the resin supplier, processor and product maker, Jack said.
``For food and drug and cosmetic issues, you really need to represent the entire industry,'' Jack said. ``I'm not sure APC can do that.''
Responding April 12 to pressure from members who have left SPI and want more services, APC formally launched a plan to address issues formerly left to SPI: FDA, transportation, resin statistics and some standard setting. APC officials say they can craft effective programs, and the groups will be able to cooperate.
``It is quite doable — it just involves a willingness to communicate,'' said APC spokeswoman Susan Moore. ``Historically, the different pieces of the industry have been able to work together whether they belong to one association, or the other, or neither,'' she said. ``The companies that want to work for the common good of the industry will put in the time.''
``Some have said this will split the industry,'' said an APC resin company official. ``The reality is we've had both groups for a while. They both have been speaking publicly on behalf of the industry.''
One high-profile area of cooperation between the two organizations has been in state government affairs, and in providing support for developing state organizations. Both groups are part of a joint state lobbying unit, although that effort is managed by APC and 90 percent of its roughly $3 million budget comes from APC.
Officials from both groups said no decisions have been made about the state government unit. Companies are watching state efforts closely because much of the industry's political and economic development activity, particularly for processors, has been shifting to state capitals.
``We're just starting to penetrate the legislators ... to get them up to the minumum awareness level,'' said Hoop Roche, president of Erie Plastics and acting chairman of Plastics Pennsylvania.
``If another group starts calling on them, it's going to confuse them. ... My guess is it's going to be pretty damn awkward.''
Roche said SPI has been the primary group supporting the nascent activity in Pennsylvania.
In Florida, on the other hand, it was APC that came in and started the grass-roots activity that became the Florida Plastics Industry Council, said Peter Blyth, FPIC chairman and president of post-industrial plastics recycler Resin Managment Corp. in Tampa. SPI has been supportive, he said.
An APC resin company official said about 4,000 companies in APC's processor database have participated in local activities, many times SPI's processor membership.
The division will make it tougher for SPI to recruit more processor members, Jack said. David Hidding, SPI's board representative for the Molders Division and vice president of Dana Molded Products Inc. in Arlington Heights, Ill., agreed.
``It makes Joe Blow processor say, `It's just another example of Washington infighting, same as government; I don't need to participate in any of it.' ... There's this perception SPI has fallen apart, when it has not,'' Hidding said.
SPI has worked to boost membership lately, cutting dues for processors in early 1997.
Figures obtained in late 1998 showed little change in membership, and SPI officials declined to provide specifics about the effort. SPI represents about 1,000 of the country's 15,000 molders.
SPI officials say the organization will survive the changes, even if its budget shrinks 10 percent from its current $30 million. SPI could make up most of the lost dues from resin company departures from the extra money those nonmember resin firms pay when they lease floor space at the NPE show, said SPI board member Sid Rains.
SPI members pay $16 a square foot, while nonmembers pay twice that. For a 10,000-square-foot booth, common for resin companies, nonmembers will pay an extra $160,000. SPI base dues for resin companies are $164,000, plus additional money for business units.
Another area in which the groups cooperate is research on bisphenol A, a building block of polycarbonate. Since the ABC news program 20/20 was preparing a critical report on BPA to air April 19, cooperation is important, according to an official with GE Plastics.