NEW ORLEANS — Larry Thomas has no problem with different plastics slugging it out with each other; he just wants it to be a fair fight.
Thomas, president of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., said in a June 23 speech at Flexpo 99 in New Orleans that plastics companies should not use negative publicity directed at some plastics as a marketing tool.
``Today, plastics are just as likely to be competing with another plastic as they are to be competing with steel, aluminum or wood,'' Thomas said. ``So now more than ever it's important to realize that unfair competition can bring the whole industry down.''
The industry has been forced to face the issue recently because of health risks allegedly associated with PVC in children's toys, medical tubing and blood bags, and with polycarbonate in baby bottles. Thomas said the attacks are based on inaccurate scientific data — and if resin makers use them against each other, they play into the hands of environmental groups such as Greenpeace.
``Greenpeace has suggested polyolefins makers should take advantage of the allegations against PVC,'' he said. ``But what happens when polyolefins are on the firing line? I'll bet you a large amount of money that Greenpeace isn't going to step up for polyolefins.''
That risk alone should be enough to deter plastics producers from using negative tactics, according to Thomas.
``Consumers don't discriminate among plastics — when you criticize one, you're bringing down all plastics,'' he said. ``One material may bear the brunt today, but tomorrow it will be another material and another allegation.''
Thomas added that although intramaterial competition is good for the industry, it should be based on merit and performance, not on outside factors.
Industry executives attending the conference, which was sponsored by Chemical Market Resources of Houston, said most resin makers abide by the guidelines Thomas suggests.
``We're not out to bash anybody,'' said David Anderson, advanced polymers market development manager for Fina Oil and Chemical Co. of Dallas, which produces polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. ``We focus on performance in scratch resistance and other areas.''
Anderson added that Fina ``hasn't played up'' PVC's troubles, even when marketing its metallocene-based PP, which is aimed at many applications dominated by flexible PVC.
``I think, overall, the industry is fairly ethical where [intramaterial competition] is concerned,'' said Brian Dunning, a senior market research manager with Dow Canada Inc. in Sarnia, Ontario. ``You compare material based on the attributes you select.''
An executive with a PVC producer said ``going negative'' doesn't pay off.
``I think economics and performance will eventually balance out any advantage you might gain,'' said the executive.
Thomas added that SPI will continue to voice its opinion on intramaterial competition, even as many resin firms defect to the Washington-based American Plastics Council.
``A lot of resin companies in APC want to galvanize their efforts and compete with SPI and we have to deal with that,'' Thomas said. ``But [intramaterial competition] is a broader issue that affects the whole industry.''