The deed is done — the U.S. plastics industry now has two Washington-based ``voices.''
The breakup of the American Plastics Council and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. has been a long, painfully slow ordeal. The split first became apparent five years ago. Remember when APC's board considered a plan to align with the Chemical Manufacturers Association?
Processor opposition scuttled that scheme. But APC's recent vote to become a full-service trade group for resin suppliers now has completed the divorce from SPI.
Where did the industry go wrong?
A cynic would say the first mistake was to create APC. From a 1999 perspective that might appear true. But the situation was different in 1992, when APC formed from the vestiges of the Council for Solid Waste Solutions. CSWS successfully had neutralized most anti-plastics legislation, but plastics were suffering in the court of public opinion.
No, the mistake wasn't to create APC, but rather to put its governance in the hands of executives who were too far removed from the plastics industry. Resin industry officials who are close to plastics processors understand the value of membership in a broad industry association. Top chemical company executives don't attach the same value to that relationship.
But that doesn't explain fully why APC chose to split from SPI. In fact, APC officials haven't been completely candid about why resin companies are leaving SPI. Cost is what they underscore — even though resin companies pay more than $1 million each to belong to APC, and less than $200,000 to join SPI.
Sure, cost is a factor. But the real problem is that some APC board members don't feel that SPI is as effective as APC.
They're probably right. APC has all the advantages of a smaller, less diverse, better financed and more focused organization. But as we've said before, effectiveness is not the question. The problem is the risk of duplication and inefficiency, and the potential to weaken the U.S. plastics industry.
How will the split work out?
To date, the prevailing attitude has been antagonism. No doubt that will linger, perhaps for a long time. That's human nature.
But, in the long run, we believe resin firms will continue to be involved with SPI. They'll attend, sponsor and speak at division meetings. They'll exhibit at NPE. Maybe SPI will charge them higher, nonmember fees to participate. Perhaps in some cases, when APC thinks it can do a better job than SPI, APC will sponsor competing events.
Many processor firms that aren't active in SPI believe the split won't affect them at all. Well, maybe it doesn't today. But maybe tomorrow it will. Critics of PVC have won some recent battles in their long war with the plastics industry, and the drumbeat against endocrine disruptors now is beginning to threaten polycarbonate.
The risks to the plastics industry are as serious today as they were when APC was created. Dealing with them will require a strong voice in Washington, and in every state capital.
We've long felt that the best way to do that is with one unified group that represents the entire industry. The only way for that to happen is for leaders of both groups to realize that they need to stop arguing and start cooperating.