There's a silly parochialism that permeates the plastics industry - silly because the folks involved really know better. But it's an issue that is annoying and persistent. It's the feeling among leaders of the resin industry that they are the most important part of the plastics industry. They're not alone. Plenty of machinery suppliers believe they are the most important part of the plastics industry. Some processors, no doubt, believe they are the industry's backbone.
Of course all three segments are vital. You wouldn't have a plastics industry without any one of them. Occasionally they face issues where their interests differ, but usually, because they're all working toward the same goals, it makes a heck of a lot of sense for them to work together.
That is why it's upsetting to see yet another series of merger talks under way between the American Plastics Council and the American Chemistry Council.
This is an issue that should have been buried long ago. Back in 1994, in fact, a similar plan was scuttled after processors got wind of the proposal. After that aborted effort, APC leaders pledged to operate as a partnership, working with both the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and with ACC, then known as the Chemical Manufacturers Association.
Why were processors upset? Some of their concern has to do with the politics of trade associations. If APC and ACC merge, that will make it nearly impossible for APC to ever combine with SPI. That means less clout, a smaller budget and a smaller staff for SPI. That's important to some insiders.
But it's also important because less clout means the plastics industry won't carry quite the same weight with legislators and regulators. Plastics already play a pretty small role in lobbying circles, especially when you consider that plastics processing is the fourth-largest U.S. manufacturing industry, measured by shipments.
There are some intangible reasons as well. Many processors see a downside to linking plastics too closely with the chemical industry. One reason ACC wants to merge is because APC's ``Take another look at plastic'' and ``Plastics make it possible'' advertisements have been so effective at boosting the industry's image. Suffice to say that the chemical industry does not enjoy that same level of public support.
As plastics face challenging health and safety issues in coming years, do processors really want the New York Times and ABC News to be reporting on industry's reaction exclusively from the American Chemistry Council? As an observer of how the media typically deals with these issues, I can say emphatically that would be a mistake.
There's another intangible: Processors want to feel like they're part of the industry's important work. Many are thrilled with APC's pro-plastics efforts, but unless they have input, that enthusiasm will wane. APC has worked to include processors in its mobilization efforts. But APC's physical separation from SPI makes that difficult - the two groups used to be right next door in Washington, but APC moved to ACC's headquarters in Arlington, Va., in 1999. A merger with ACC could make working with processors even tougher.
A sad footnote to this story is that some APC board members won't care what processors think of the merger plan. They've always thought of APC as an offshoot of their chemical industry trade work, and they believe that they are the plastics industry. Processors, in their eyes, are just customers.
Don Loepp is the managing editor of Plastics News.