A newbie might not think this week's news is all that important — the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association are forming an alliance to help the industry speak with a single voice in North America.
But formalizing this spirit of cooperation — even naming it the North American Plastics Alliance — is noteworthy. Especially in an industry that, despite its size, sometimes suffers from lack of political clout.
The alliance initially will focus on four areas: pellet containment, advocacy, energy recovery and initiatives aimed at getting key stakeholders to look more favorably on plastics. These are important issues, to be sure. Again, to a newcomer, the list of challenges that the industry is facing today may seem daunting and unprecedented: bag bans, PS foam container bans, regulatory concerns about the safety of bisphenol A and phthalates.
But scrutiny is nothing new to plastics. Think back to the late 1980s, when SPI formed the Council for Solid Waste Solutions. Just like today, plastic bags were under attack, PS foam was being banned, and chemical safety was on the public docket.
If anything, it's surprising how little has changed.
Yes, some of these issues are on the rise.
* Some 22 communities in the United States have bans on plastic carryout bags, eight of them enacted this year. In addition, Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md., have a 5-cent tax on paper and plastic carryout bags.
* In California alone, 36 cities and three communities — most of them adjacent to the ocean — have banned PS takeout food-service containers.
* Nine states, the city of Chicago and four counties in New York have bans on BPA in baby bottles.
Considering those challenges, it's essential that the North American plastics industry's leading trade associations cooperate at all levels. And, to their credit, that's been the case — at least in recent years.
But it wasn't that long ago that the groups were at odds. SPI and ACC went through a bitter divorce. For a while, they seemed to battle over anything and everything. Plastics News frequently took them to task in editorials, which didn't make us popular — but they deserved the criticism. Disagreement contributed to balkanization, with special interest groups popping up outside the structure of what should have been the industry's umbrella organizations.
Today, the industry's leaders deserve credit for handling issues the right way. Their staffers regularly cooperate on important topics. And they recognize that they should formalize the relationships to make sure that they continue, regardless of who is in charge.
In journalism school, professors tell young reporters that conflict is news. But today, at least, cooperation is news. It's a welcomed development.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”