Bill Carteaux wants plastics executives to know that the strength of their products - durability and light weight - also are the Achilles' heel of the plastics industry, bringing plastics down in the eyes of consumers, activists and government officials concerned about the products' environmental impact.
``We're not going to be taken real seriously from a sustainability perspective until we get this issue of litter cleaned up and this visible waste that we have in front of us,'' the president and chief executive officer of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. said June 3 at the Ohio Polymer Summit in Columbus.
``We can continue to stick our head in the sand from an industry perspective, or we can start to address the [sustainability] issue,'' Carteaux said.
The plastics industry has relied on ``sound science rather than emotion'' in the debate about eco-friendliness, which has cost plastics in public opinion, as shown by news coverage of issues such as paper vs. plastic bags, and bisphenol A in water bottles, Carteaux said.
``The plastics industry has been very splintered over the last few years,'' he said. ``It's time to bring that together and to have one voice and one vision. That's not SPI's voice and vision - it's a collective voice and vision of the entire industry that we need to make sure we're using to fight these environmental groups and these [nongovernmental organizations] that are very well-organized and extremely well-funded around the world today.''
The plastics industry faces numerous challenges, including high resin prices and energy costs, rising transportation expenses, tighter sustainability goals set by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the threat of additional environmental regulations, Carteaux said.
Of the 100 billion pounds of plastics produced annually in the United States, 70 percent ends up in landfills within six months, he said - that means 70 billion pounds of lost resin could be recovered to help keep producers' costs down.
By accepting sustainability as part of doing business, the industry can stay healthy, he said. ``From an innovation standpoint, we can rejuvenate this industry that's becoming more mature with more products and processes,'' Carteaux said.
Washington-based SPI and associations representing other industries are working together to promote improved recycling programs and construction of more waste-to-energy facilities, similar to those in Asia and Europe, that burn municipal garbage to produce power, he said.
Carteaux said SPI's efforts to increase sustainability awareness will extend to several upcoming conferences and trade shows.
SPI and Plastics News Global Group are sponsoring Sustain '08: Plastics Business Summit, scheduled to be held Nov. 5-7 in Chicago.
Next year's NPE, slated for June 22-26 in Chicago, will feature two pavilions dedicated to new technologies, energy, bioplastics and sustainability. NPE 2009 will run alongside the Society of Plastics Engineers' annual Antec conference.
``A big focus of what Antec is doing is going to revolve around the sustainability, nanotechnology and bioplastics topics as well,'' Carteaux said.
``As we've done for many, many shows now, we'll have a comprehensive recycling program of all of the scrap generated from the machines,'' Carteaux said. ``We're taking that a step further this time: We're working with [McCormick Place] and the city of Chicago to get all of the post-consumer [waste] from the show as well.''
SPI will work with the events' general contractor to recycle 42 square miles of carpet that will be laid inside the exhibition halls, he said.