WASHINGTON — In the latest realignment of the industry's two largest trade groups, the Vinyl Institute said June 23 it is leaving the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and is planning to join the American Plastics Council.
APC, in another development, rejected a proposal from SPI that the two groups join forces on Food and Drug Administration work. SPI proposed that it manage that effort to avoid destroying SPI's and the industry's longtime FDA ties. SPI accused APC of wanting to dominate the food-packaging-regulation arena.
VI, one of SPI's larger and more prominent units, said it is shifting to APC as of July 1 because it needs assistance where APC is strongest.
``For VI, the challenges that we have to face are media and state and local initiatives,'' said Tim Burns, executive director of Washington-based VI. ``That fits perfectly with the strengths of APC.''
VI has borne the brunt of one of the biggest public-policy threats to the industry: Greenpeace's longtime campaign to phase out PVC, which has prompted more-recent questions about the safety of vinyl toys and medical products.
Earlier this month, SPI withdrew its funding for the joint state government lobbying work it had undertaken with APC.
Dow Chemical Co. and Occidental Chemical Corp. first suggested that VI move to APC, but the decision was studied and made by the entire organization, said William Carroll, vice president of chloro-vinyl issues at Dallas-based OxyChem and chairman of VI's operating committee.
``It was a matter of evaluating two positive trade associations, and figuring out which had the most reasonable, current alignment on the issues facing VI,'' Carroll said.
APC leaders have modified their bylaws to accommodate VI resin-company members that are not already members of APC. According to the new bylaws, VI members do not have to pay dues to support APC's expensive advertising and core lobbying work.
Other groups to leave SPI recently include the Plastic Pipe Institute and the Polystyrene Packaging Council, the latter to affiliate with APC. SPI's Polyurethane Division also is considering leaving SPI.
VI has an annual budget of about $8.7 million, and is in the midst of a restructuring and expansion that will add several staff members, Burns said. The group is taking over responsibility for some issues that previously were managed in partnership with the Arlington, Va.-based Chlorine Chemistry Council.
Meanwhile, APC rejected SPI's proposal to combine their FDA work. But APC said it is interested in cooperating with SPI's efforts.
``We are more than willing to have a coordinated effort — [SPI's] proposal is to have it stay in SPI, managed by SPI,'' APC President Ron Yocum said in a June 25 interview. ``It's not a spiteful thing. If you look at who normally winds up having to fight battles in this environmental health area, it ends up back on the backs of the resin producers.''
Since at least 11 of APC's 26 members no longer belong to SPI, they would not have any control if SPI keeps that responsibility, Yocum said.
``I think they are saying, `My God, if something would go wrong, we will be the ones who get clobbered,''' he said.
SPI President Larry Thomas said in a June 21 letter to APC that his proposal would avoid hurting 40-year-old relationships SPI has with government agencies.
``FDA regulation of plastics packaging and associated health and safety issues is not an area in which either of our organizations can effectively `go it alone,''' he wrote. ``Competing, uncoordinated efforts could have disastrous consequences and the destruction of the industry's carefully nurtured relationships.''
Thomas said in a June 25 interview that APC's response ``indicates to me that the APC leadership is not really interested in cooperation. It appears their goal is to harm SPI and its broad membership.'' APC has said it is expanding into SPI programs because many of its members have left SPI.
FDA work is a combined effort from all segments of the industry, and should not be led only by resin companies, Thomas said. SPI should lead the effort because it has the experience, and it plans to continue its FDA programs, which include 288 SPI companies.
``If they are in competition with us and causing confusion in the marketplace, how is that going to lead to any kind of coordinated effort?'' Thomas said.
APC will let SPI attend its FDA meetings and will keep SPI informed about its FDA activities, Yocum said.
APC had wanted to hire SPI's longtime Washington law-firm-of-choice in FDA matters, Keller and Heckman LLP. But Thomas' letter said SPI would consider that a conflict of interest. Yocum said APC is considering three other law firms to handle its FDA work. That effort should be in place in four months, he said.
Jerome Heckman, senior partner at Keller and Heckman, said his firm will continue to represent APC member companies as long as doing so does not conflict with its SPI representation or other clients.
``About the worst thing that could happen at this time is for the APC to make people and the government believe the industry is divided on the goals of the 42-year-old SPI Food, Drug and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee,'' Heckman said in a statement.