With plastics facing growing scrutiny on a variety of fronts, the three major trade industry associations in North America have formed an alliance to make sure they are sending out a clear and consistent message — and not one that comes across as fractured.
The new North American Plastics Alliance — announced July 7 — brings together the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association in an alliance that initially will focus on four key areas: pellet containment, advocacy, energy recovery, and initiatives aimed at getting key stakeholders to look more favorably on plastics.
“This alliance will make us more understandable to our stakeholders,” said CPIA's interim president and CEO, Greg Wilkinson, in a July 6 phone interview. “It will be easier for our stakeholders to understand who we are, what we're doing and what we care about and it will be easier for us to communicate in a clear, crisp way.”
The industry has been hard-hit lately in the public eye, as legislators, consumers and non-government organizations have questioned the value of plastics in single-use products that contribute to litter and marine debris.
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 polystyrene takeout food-service containers.
In addition, a number of chemicals used to make plastics — in particular bisphenol A and phthalates —- have become the subject of scrutiny because of a perceived threat to human health.
But Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC, said the three associations did not approach the alliance because of any particular “burning issue.”
“The three organizations have worked well together in a number of areas over the last several years,” Russell said by telephone. “We felt we had an opportunity to coordinate things to make sure we all have the latest facts and access to the newest, most accurate data, and that we can learn from each other.
“The alliance also will help the three organizations provide a more consistent advocacy message,” Russell said.
The three association executives said they formed the partnership to ensure that the existing cooperation between SPI, ACC — both based in Washington — and CPIA continues, regardless of who is in charge.
“We wanted to formalize the relationships we had to make sure they continue,” said SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux.
“We wanted to have long-term continuity for this — and ensure that the cooperation wasn't just because of the three of us,” Carteaux said.
Wilkinson agreed: “We felt it was important to put systems in place so there was continuity going forward.”
The three groups have joined arms twice in the last four months on environmental stewardship initiatives. They extended the industry's pellet cleanup program, Operation Clean Sweep, into Canada in late June; and in March they pledged, along with 44 other global plastics associations, including PlasticsEurope, to work in partnership with other organizations to develop solutions to marine debris globally.
“We are already working closely with SPI and CPIA on a number of fronts,” Russell said. “So we are establishing a formal steering committee, comprised of member companies, to oversee coordination efforts in four key areas that have been identified and agreed by all three organizations [as] a way to deliver greater value to our stakeholders.”
The steering committee will include Russell, Carteaux, Wilkinson and a member company representative from each assoc- iation. They are Paul Cohen, president of W. Ralston (Canada) Inc., who is also board chairman for Mississauga-based CPIA; Jay Cude, president and CEO of Coeur Inc., who is a vice chairman of the SPI board of directors; and Glenn Wright, commercial vice president of North America Plastics for Dow Chemical Co., who also chairs the operating committee of ACC's plastics division.
The trade groups have framed broad guidelines for how the alliance will work, and the committee and its members have agreed to meet as often as needed to provide guidance on how to proceed on issues, they said.
“This new collaboration is a logical extension of the work we do on behalf of our members and will make CPIA's voice on behalf of the Canadian plastics industry even stronger,” Wilkinson said. “Many of our issues cross the Canada-U.S. border and working together with other national organizations will help us focus our resources where they can make a difference for the industry. “
Carteaux emphasized that the creation of the alliance is “not a cost-cutting exercise.”
“While we may enjoy efficiencies along the way, the focus is on effectiveness,” he said.
The alliance will allow the industry, when necessary, to present legislators with a more coordinated perspective, one that represents processors and equipment manufacturers — which comprise the bulk of SPI members — and the resin suppliers in ACC's plastics division.
“We can tell the whole story of what's going on together,” discussing the national implications of issues and their specific impact on jobs and the community at a local level, Carteaux said. “It is the coordination at that level that is important.”
“In situations where it will make sense for our industry to speak in one voice, it will be better to get our voices behind a single message,” Wilkinson said. “Speaking with one voice helps simplify the political advocacy process. By working together, we will be able to move forward more.”
Russell wholeheartedly agreed. “Having more frequent, consistent input from the plastics industry when information matters the most is what is most important about this alliance,” he said.