CHICAGO (June 27, 4:35 p.m. EDT) — Business is good, and in the minds of most NPE attendees, so apparently is the industry's environmental image.
Only 2.3 percent of the respondents to a DuPont survey felt the industry has a worse public image than a year ago, and more than 62 percent felt it improved.
About two-thirds of the respondents said the industry is either doing the right amount to improve its image or doing too much, while just 25 percent of those interviewed for the DuPont Plastics Industry Survey said more should be done on environmental issues. DuPont surveyed 304 people.
In short, the environment is not a big deal.
"I don't think (the environment) is really hurting the industry at all," said Dana Kreft, sales manager with PVC sheet laminator ABC Industries Inc. "PVC has been used in the industry for so long, and as far as I know, there haven't been any documented problems."
ABC sells its sheeting into the recreational vehicle industry, but Kreft said its customers are not asking questions about PVC. Several automakers have said they want to move away from vinyl, citing performance issues.
PVC has come under environmental pressure in medical and consumer products over health and recycling issues, and some medical firms and hospitals have said they want alternatives because they are concerned that harmful chemicals can leach from vinyl into the bloodstream.
An attendee from a Danish extruder and thermoformer of food packaging said the public, including shopkeepers and consumers, wants to move away from PVC in that country.
"Those are demands coming from the shopping centers and from the stores," said Verner Pedersen, manager of research and development for Skylight AS of Varde, Denmark. "They want to be known as good environmentalists, so they take interest in what is happening."
While most people interviewed seemed to feel that the public has a generally good image of the industry, some felt it is not the time to get complacent.
"On one front, as far as the harmful effects of chemicals from the consumer perspective, (industry groups) are doing a good job," said Sekhar Reddy, president of Cumberland Molded Products, a small custom molder in Woodbury, Tenn.
"I'm not sure they do that much for all the pollution that takes place during the process," Reddy said. "The burden is always on the processor."
Reddy said his children always remind him to recycle, and point it out when he does not. Yet while they remind him, he typically is the one who does the work to make recycling happen, he said.
Still, he said, industry is not handling recycling in an integrated fashion. Cumberland's manager of technical operations, Kiran Desai, said recent ISO 14000 standards on environmental performance will start to require companies to be more aware of their environmental impact.
Walter Fields, the vice president of sales and marketing for DuPont Engineering Polymers, said the debate needs to move beyond simply recycling.
"Instead of looking at recycling as the sole measure of environmental impact, we would like to see more meaningful dialogue around sustainability and the overall footprint we leave behind when we make, use and discard a product made with plastic vs. other materials," Fields said in a prepared statement.
"Consumers have grown to understand and appreciate the benefits provided by plastics in terms of reduced weight, lower cost and improved safety," he said. "The future challenge lies in communicating the positive impact plastics often have on the environment in terms of total life cycle."
Jeffrey DeGross, technical services representative for polyurethane elastomers for BASF Corp. in Wyandotte, Mich., said the advertising sponsored by the American Plastics Council is helping the industry's image.
"It's about time for us to speak up about our side of the story," he said. "Now people all know that plastic is good because it saves on gas mileage."
Don Duncan, president of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., said the survey results do not surprise him.
"This is typical of the good times — we are still in the good times," he said. "When you are in the good times, you feel like things will always go well.
But he said results like that can indicate complacency: "I'm not at all of the opinion that those issues are behind us."