This is a rarity for one of my Plastics News blogs. Instead of giving my opinion, I'm asking for yours.
The plastics industry has long had a reputation as being pretty poor at self-promotion.
Plastics always seem to be battling a public reputation that they are cheap, artificial materials with a questionable environmental record.
The industry is huge — it's the third-largest manufacturing sector in the United States — but politically it's an also-ran, far behind lobbies like trial lawyers and Realtors. People trying to ban plastic bags in California are trying to spin that as a battle against “Big Plastic,” but the reality is they're fighting a sleeping giant.
The reputation problems can hit closer to home, too — not just the big picture of consumer attitudes.
In their communities, and even in plastics circles, many companies that we write about keep a low profile. Their efforts to reach out to important audiences — customers, would-be employees, politicians, educators — can leave a lot to be desired.
One result is that plastic company managers feel like they're misunderstood or underappreciated — and that someone should do something about it.
The issue can have serious implications. Consider one problem that we've been hearing over and over for about seven years now: Young people don't pursue careers in manufacturing — including plastics — because they aren't aware of the opportunities.
The result is that most of the companies that we cover have a serious problem recruiting young talent. They know they have a lot of baby boomers who plan to retire in the next 10 to 20 years. They don't really know how they're going to replace them.
This column isn't designed to solve that problem. But I am collecting readers' opinions about the reputation of the plastics industry and the issues it faces. Please share your thoughts by going to www.plasticsnews.com/reputation to answer questions including these:
• On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, what do you think of the reputation of the plastics industry? (As a guide, think of the tobacco industry as being a 1.)
• What do you think people like about plastics?
• What do you think people don't like about plastics?
• Do you think the industry's image over the last 10 years has gotten better, stayed the same or gotten worse?
• What do you consider the most significant challenge that the plastics industry faces?
• On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most serious, how serious a problem is the rising number of local and statewide bans on single-use plastic products?
• What issues do you face when you try to recycle plastics at home, at work, and when you're traveling?
• Do you think the plastics industry will outperform, track or underperform GDP growth in the next 10 years?
• Why do you feel that way?
• What kind of a reaction do you get from people when you tell them you work in plastics?
• How do you address people's negative attitudes, or misconceptions, about plastics?
• Do people in your community understand what your company does, it's size and importance in the local economy?
• Does your company do enough to communicate, through the news media?
I look forward to reading your replies, and sharing some of the findings with you in the next few weeks.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.” Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.