CHICAGO (Nov. 8, 11:15 a.m. ET) — The American Chemistry Council is taking an “all hands on deck” approach to combat misinformation about plastics, and wants the blow molding sector on board.
Protecting the plastics brand is the job of everyone employed in the industry, especially in the new age of social media, where the distribution of information — no matter if it's true or not — comes at the speed of typing fingers.
ACC's senior government affairs director, Rudy Underwood, outlined the challenges of contending with false information disseminated by some media and environmentalists, along with the emotionalism it engenders, during an Oct. 12 speech at the Society of Plastics' Engineers Annual Blow Molding Conference in Chicago.
“There are a number of examples where facts don't get you anywhere,” Underwood said.
He emphasized the need for those in the industry to communicate in their area of expertise against any misinformation they may see — on television, in newspapers and especially on the Internet.
“The words you use could help protect the plastics brand,” Underwood said. “The general public looks at plastics as plastics. They don't differentiate. That's where the problem comes in.”
State and local governments are targeting plastics. Environmental, non-governmental organizations are emboldened and emotional, in spite of the fact that plastics in general often contain the answer rather than the problem.
“Is your product safe from a regulatory or legislative challenge or ban?” he asked.
The targeted area is growing. Plastic water bottles are being banned on college campuses. In Austin, Texas, officials with the Texas Retailers Association have asked the City Council to find an alternative to a suggested plastics bag ban, according to an article in the Austin American Statesman. An ACC-funded poll indicated most consumers would support an alternative that would emphasize the need to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Underwood identified the battle in Austin as “the biggest headache today.”
But the tide of anti-plastics information being distributed via the Internet and social media sources such as Twitter and Facebook could have even worse and wider consequences.
“The Internet has changed information distribution,” Underwood said.
At www.greenplate.org, visitors to the website are encouraged to “Get Plastic Out of Your Diet.” The group's stated mission is to raise awareness of the negative impact plastics have on the environment, waters and food chain. Officials there offer education and tools for individuals and businesses to actively cut back on single-use plastics products and promote a healthier lifestyle.
Visitors are asked to take the “7 Day Challenge” to eliminate one plastic product per day. For example, on the first day they are encouraged not to take a straw for a drink order placed at a restaurant.
But the facts about plastics production and use speak for themselves once someone takes an honest look at them, Underwood said. Plastics lightweighting in vehicles achieves environmental goals. In residential home building applications, plastics help especially with energy efficiency.
“We're actually helping our country become energy-independent,” he said.
But when the plastics industry attempts to correct misinformation in the mainstream media, it often is viewed as self-serving by anti-plastics groups, said an official with Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich.
“The message we're trying to get out there is translating the sustainability to consumers in a language they understand,” said Stacy Fields, Dow market manager for rigid packaging in Houston.
Fields said it really comes down to educating consumers, and some brand owners and retailers do it better than others. “It's a scare, and people don't know what to believe,” he said of grass-roots efforts by environmentalists.
A number of conference goers admitted they didn't know how to convey the right message or what method would be most effective. Another obstacle, officials from several companies reported, is not having enough time or staff to dedicate to the effort.