ORLANDO, FLA. — Environmental activists never let the facts get in the way of a good plastics-bashing campaign, preferring to start with a position and adapt data to fit it.
So said Mike Martinez, regional manager, government affairs, at Plant City, Fla.-based polystyrene foam products manufacturer Dart Container Corp.
Speaking at a Business of Plastics session at NPE 2015 in Orlando under the banner “The Post-Modern Conundrum,” Martinez said all too often public policy was being driven by misconception, with interpretation trumping facts.
“The narrative has become more important than the data, and the conclusion, which is already arrived at, drives that data,” he said.
Martinez said PS foam had become “the villain of choice,” despite environmental data to the contrary.
People have a preconception of what plastic is like without worrying about whether it is accurate or not, he suggested.
The representation of plastic in much of the media also drew criticism from Martinez. “There's the old saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads.'
“The narrative must also have familiar elements: the hero, as in a local authority seeking to ban a plastic product; the villain, namely the plastic product in question; the conflict, where the evil corporation wants to sell the villainous product, and the resolution, where the council bans the product.”
Such a narrative involved no use of context or interpretation of data that might conflict with the conclusion already drawn by those seeking to remove the product from a city's store shelves, Martinez said.
And very often city authorities would decide before any hearings that they would ban a product anyway, he added.
“The fix, as they say, is ‘in.'”
The industry should respond by presenting a competing narrative, Martinez said, although this would never be as compelling as that of an activist group.
“Get your staff on board, work with your local community, put a human face or faces to the plastic product you make.
“Develop a community action team, engage with stakeholders in your area, act as plastics ambassadors. Make that connection between you, what you do and those in the community.
“It's a long, hard road to hoe, and for many the product will be denigrated before you even open your mouth, but despite it being an uphill battle, it is one worth engaging.”