The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is on the right track with its social media-based Internet campaign aimed at boosting the image of plastics with the millennial generation.
The four-year, $10 million project, which has been in the works for a year, will include an Internet-based ad campaign, Imagine the Possibilities with Plastics. The ads will tout the benefits of plastics, while also rebutting the massive amount of misinformation on the Web about plastics.
There's no doubt about it, plastics have an image problem that has fueled issues like bag taxes and bans, which have popped up around the world. Bottled-water bans may be next.
Many in the industry think they've got science on their side, and that's enough to battle the arsenal of half-truths. But it's not enough just to wait for the public to realize taxes and bans are misguided. Legislative initiatives against plastics typically have a laudable goal reducing litter or preventing marine debris, for example. But while other solutions make more sense, a significant portion of the public is happy to simply ban or tax plastic products without considering alternatives.
Why? Because some people just have a bias against plastics.
Plastics are seen as artificial, non-degradable and constructed from non-renewable petrochemicals. Instead, why don't people think of plastics as energy-efficient, durable, recyclable materials that contribute greatly to our quality of living? It's because the plastics industry has not done enough to make that case.
SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux was right when he said the industry can't continue to fight back just at the reactive stage when things are emotionally charged. The plastics industry needs to get involved at the beginning of the process, take the offensive, and react quicker to challenges.
Some people I've talked to think it's too late for the industry to try this approach. They point to the rash of plastics-related bans and taxes, plus ongoing debates over the safety of certain materials, and they believe the plastics industry has already lost this war.
I disagree. Global environmental groups the ones with real legislative clout, credibility and fund-raising abilities are focused on global warming and other issues, not banning plastic bags. And the industry knows a major ad campaign can boost its image. It worked as recently as 2005, when the 10-year, $250 million Plastics Make It Possible campaign from the American Plastics Council ended. SPI's campaign will be on a smaller scale $10 million vs. $250 million, and Web-based rather than a major media project. Even then, I wonder how successful SPI will be at raising funds, especially in this recession. A key will be to convince all sectors the project is necessary and will be effective.
That might be a tough sell, since many processors aren't inclined to get involved. Ban one material; they'll use another. Tax one product and they'll find a new market. It remains to be seen whether they can be convinced that the challenges to the plastics industry are serious and urgent enough for them to participate.
Loepp also is author of The Plastics Blog.