As president of the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council, Steve Russell has diligently worked to counter the attacks on plastics, and endeavored to tell everyone from consumers to legislators to retailers about both the benefits of plastics and why plastics are a sustainable solution.
“I am constantly amazed at how many opportunities we have to tell the story of plastics and sustainability,” said Russell in an interview at NPE2012, held April 1-5 in Orlando.
“People want information about how materials affect the environment and how they can make better choices. Policymakers want to know how plastics are delivering solutions, and retailers want to know how plastics perform relative to other materials.”
He and his staff work to get information out in as many ways possible — by responding to blogs and stories, providing information on plastics on a number of websites they have developed, and through its Plastics Make It Possible image campaign.
“The plastics division of the ACC has always and will continue to advocate on behalf of the plastics industry to make sure public policy and regulation is fair,” he said.
All those messages and efforts have helped, Russell said, yet the challenge today is just as large — if not larger.
“What has changed in the past four years is the amount of misinformation and inaccurate information about plastics on the Internet and the number of venues on the Internet that proclaim plastics is not a sustainable product,” he said.
“One article on a blog can be picked up instantly by other sites, so it requires you to react quickly to counteract it,” he said. In response to that, he said the plastics division of ACC has increased the resources and people dedicated to providing accurate information and put in place a rapid response team to engage people who read that misinformation. ACC then corrects the information, he said.
“We will comment with an online post,” said Russell. “And we do that as quickly as possible.”
In addition, he said, ACC has been more proactive in providing media outlets “information about the benefits and safety of plastic products” in an effort to increase the possibility that there is “balance in the original reporting.”
“The good news is that most people seem to appreciate having a range of opinions and being able to reach a conclusion” on their own, whether it is the general public, the consumer, retailers, legislators or members of the media, Russell said. “We find receptivity to our message and a willingness to consider other points of view. Our objective is to provide honest, fair and accurate information.”
For example, he said the focus for ACC in its Plastics Make It Possible campaign is to “increase consumer awareness about the role plastics already plays in providing the benefits we enjoy in life.”
“The campaign has been successful in reaching a large number of people and reaching people who are engaged in the discussion about sustainability,” said Russell. “The interesting thing we're finding is that it works whether we are talking about the role of plastics in sports, the automotive industry or in packaging” just to name a few market segments.
In order to be successful combating misinformation, Russell calls on the entire industry — not just the specific segment under attack — to work together to ensure that there is fair and accurate information.
Fortunately, he said the industry now works together more than it did four years ago.
“I can't understate the importance of the collaboration among the many trade associations,” including the cooperation between the plastics division of ACC, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., that was formalized last summer with the creation of the North American Plastics Alliance.
Russell added that he is also looking forward to enhancing the discussion of using plastics as a fuel source—if there is not a good recycling option, and working to improve the recycling rates of film through the new Flexible Film and Packaging Group it formed earlier this year.
“We are excited about the potential that exists to move the needle on the recycling rates of all types of material,” he said.
“We have already seen a significant improvement in recycling rates for film and see that as a very good sign for future improvement,” said Russell.
“We are discussing the range of options will retailer to recycle the material through reverse logistics through distribution centers.”
The new FFPG is still in the early stages of formation, but already has film converters, recycling, and resin suppliers as members, said Russell. “There will be brand owners as well. We have a sufficient base from which we can grow film recycling.”