It's a polymer world, after all. Or at least it could be.
Florida's Walt Disney World may construct an exhibit touting plastics at its Epcot Center resort in Orlando - provided the industry can come up with about $5 million for the three-year project.
The theme park approached the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. recently, after deciding plastics would fit in as an exhibit in the theme park's Innoventions section.
Innoventions showcases technology and offers a vision of the future in interactive, kid-friendly exhibits sponsored by major corporations, such as the ``Beautiful Science'' exhibit from Monsanto Co., ``Networked Living'' from IBM Corp. and the ``Knowledge Vortex,'' from Xerox Corp.
The exhibits can include games and hands-on activities, and feature Disney staffers in roles that help present a message.
Disney is exploring plastics because it's relevant to daily life, and it seemed like the story could be told in an entertaining and educational way, said Rob Machado, Disney business development manager.
``We realized there are a lot of things in our lives made of plastics,'' Machado said. ``All these things we use that we don't even really think about - that's a pretty cool story. We're always looking for something that would be fun for kids.''
Machado made a presentation to SPI's board in May.
It's too early to say what shape the exhibit might take, or even if it will happen, but SPI wants to take a serious look at it, said Bonnie Limbach, spokeswoman for Washington-based SPI.
The price tag is about what it would cost for a similar plastics-related exhibit at other museums, something that SPI had been exploring, but Disney World has a lot more visitors, Limbach said. Innoventions gets about 5 million visitors a year - about half of the 10 million who trek to Epcot each year.
``That kind of exposure is pretty much unparalleled in the United States,'' Limbach said.
SPI sees the exhibit as a way to get children excited about the plastics industry, said Richard Averette, president of Precision Southeast Inc. in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a member of the SPI committee reviewing the Disney project.
``The biggest single issue is to educate students about the opportunities in the industry, so that they can prepare for that,'' Averette said.
Machado and SPI officials said the exhibit would be designed by Disney staff after working with industry officials to identify how to tell the story. Machado said the plastics industry is so broad that those involved in the project are just starting to look at areas to focus on.
A central goal is to make the exhibit interactive and to draw visitors in, he said.
For example, the park has an exhibit sponsored by the paper industry that talks about sustainability efforts, and then guides children through the process of making paper, Machado said.
The exhibit started in late 1999, said Patricia Dunwoody, outreach director for Tappi, a technical association for the pulp, paper and converting industries. Tappi, formerly the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, is in Norcross, Ga.
``We wanted people to understand that the forest products industry are the good guys,'' she said. ``The perception is of these lumberjacks coming in and cutting trees and leaving forests bare.''
She said the exhibit is designed to help people understand forest management and the industry's environmentally friendly practices. Dunwoody said Tappi can't quantify how the program specifically has benefited the industry, but the group has been happy with the results.
``It's tough to measure,'' she said. ``We just kind of went with a gut feeling that we wanted to get this message out to as many folks as we could.''
The tight economy, however, is forcing Tappi to consider whether to extend the exhibit beyond this year, she said.
To get its own exhibit up and running, SPI probably would hire a fund-raiser to gather the roughly $5 million needed for the first three years, Averette said. SPI would have about six to nine months to raise the money. The timing for the exhibit is yet to be determined.
``The reality is that I think it will happen,'' said Averette, who had been part of an SPI effort to develop a traveling exhibit for a children's museum. That project is on hold while talks proceed with Disney.
Machado pointedly said Disney does not talk publicly about the number of visitors, funding or other business-related issues surrounding the exhibits. It prefers to keep those discussions between the groups and Disney, he said.
``We try not to talk about the business terms,'' he said. ``Walt Disney World is about fantasy.''
While it may be hard to quantify the benefits of such an exhibit, Averette said he thinks it would be a good move for the industry.
``I know we will be better off if we do it than if we don't do it,'' he said.