The plastics industry would do well to sprout big mouse ears, and quickly.
That's because Mickey's hometown, Walt Disney World, has developed an appetite for plastics. The Orlando, Fla., theme park is keen to develop a plastics exhibit in the Innoventions section of Epcot Center. Disney has approached the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and discussed the prospects for such a venture. An interested SPI is assessing what would be involved to pull it off.
The proposed three-year, 3,000-square-foot exhibit would require plastics supporters, in short order, to raise an estimated $5 million. During this difficult period of lean budgets and shrinking corporate largess, that's one tall task. But seldom does such an opportunity present itself, and the industry should seize on it. The potential benefits should not be underestimated.
Innoventions attracts about 5 million visitors per year, about half the total that pay to trek through Epcot. One is hard-pressed to imagine another scenario that could offer vaguely comparable exposure. Over the years, the industry — particularly the American Plastics Council and its predecessors — has invested a considerable amount to improve public perception of plastics. It has had considerable success, but cannot afford to rest on its laurels.
Few entities connect with youth like Disney does. APC's “Plastics make it possible” theme could not ask for a bigger stage.
This effort, as yet unclouded by politics and personalities, also offers industry the opportunity to create a widespread partnership that would cross trade-association and international boundaries. An SPI spokesperson has indicated that the group would be more than willing to involve APC — once its bitter, cross-town rival — as well as industry associations in Europe and elsewhere in a broad-based effort to make such an exhibit a reality. (Nearly one in five Epcot visitors hails from outside the United States.)
And there is one other, more defensive reason, to act decisively. If plastics takes a pass on this invitation, one can reasonably expect Disney, which seems enamored of the materials-industry approach to Innoventions, to approach instead a sector that is competitive with plastics.
We recognize that some in the industry may have valid reason to pause. The National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass., for example, relies heavily on fund raising. It has done an excellent job creating a repository for industry artifacts and knowledge, and in taking the industry's technology and message to the school-age public via its traveling Plastivan project. That costs money, which must come from public and private industry pockets.
Since there is only so much cash to go around, one surely could understand if NPCM were to harbor concerns about the impact of the Epcot project on its own midterm plans. But the museum's leaders also must face facts — an exhibit in Leominster cannot hope to attract a fraction of the visitors who head to Disney World each year.
For the good of the industry, NPCM would do well to throw its full support behind this project. In return, the industry's Disney-focused coalition should find a way to bring the exhibit, or key parts of it, back to Leominster for permanent display after the Disney stint ends. NPCM must, at the very least, come out whole from such an endeavor.