The plastics industry is using NPE2018 to unveil a new effort to enlist its nearly 1 million U.S. employees as foot soldiers in efforts to boost the image of the industry and better answer critics.
The Plastics Industry Association, the organizer of NPE, used the show's opening day news conference May 7 to unveil a new website, thisisplastics.com, aimed at turning employees into ambassadors.
It provides talking points on some more controversial topics facing the industry, like the role of plastics in marine litter, plastic bag bans and taxes on plastic products.
The campaign has an interactive exhibit in the South Hall concourse at NPE2018, and it will be highlighted at other locations around the show floor.
Wylie Royce, chairman of the association and president of additive maker Royce Associates, said the idea is to give employees tools and discussion points to persuasively make its points.
"These are real facts actually being shared by friends and neighbors, and we hope it gains some traction," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take time."
He said the group hopes that it's seen as better information than that coming from companies or trade associations: "If the information is put out there by a corporation, it's immediately suspect."
The association has spent more than a year developing the materials, which includes articles, shareable images, video and interactive quizzes.
The group said it wants to provide "easily digestible" pieces of information around five industry topics: plastics 101, safety, economic impact, environment and innovation.
Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the association, sees the program being similar to the voluntary Operation Clean Sweep that the industry started 15 years to reduce plastic pellet litter from factories getting into the environment. He said that's reduced marine pellets in wastewater by 80 percent.
Both he and Royce said an important component of the effort is to acknowledge problems in areas like plastics in ocean debris.
"One of the things we recognize, and this is very prominent in This Is Plastics, is we have to admit there is a problem, and there is," Carteaux said. "Are we the reason for it because we produce it? No.
"Litter is a huge issue, and we have to make sure that people dispose of it properly and that we promote waste to energy like they do in Western Europe," he said.
Royce said that, in a sense, the industry is a "victim of its own success" because of the widespread use of plastics. He said he hopes to turn around some of the defensiveness that can get into those debates.
"Part of the problem has been that in the industry very often, the things that are coming out that are against plastic, they are very emotional arguments and by emotional I'm saying they're valid; we know there's a litter problem," he said. "We realize these things and very often we're kind of defensive about it. And we say yes but look at all the good things plastics does."
He said they hope the campaign can help convince industry employees to better engage on the issues.
"We found that by actually answering these questions with empathy and with true facts about what is going on and what the industry is doing and what the industry is planning to do, we think this will help move things forward," he said.