Plastics have suffered from an image problem for decades. But 2018 may be remembered as a tipping point, when negative public opinion started to cause real harm to the industry.
But that doesn't have to happen. Reasonable people, even critics, understand that plastics provide benefits to society: saving both money and natural resources, and making products safer, including food, transportation and medical care.
The industry needs to do more to highlight the benefits of plastics. That's been a tenet of Plastics News' editorial philosophy since we started publishing 30 years ago. We've seen efforts come and go, and we've tried to encourage the best ones.
Still, we can't pretend that plastics' image problem is not, at least partially, deserved. When it comes to waste, plastics deserve a failing grade.
Obviously some of the responsibility belongs to society. For years, in this annual column, I have been saying that we need to do more to encourage recycling. Americans, with the encouragement of the industry, have become too comfortable in their habit of throwing away used plastics. Now that bad habit has gone global.
Some in the United States point to Asia as the source of the current marine debris problem. But it is time to take responsibility. We export plastic resin globally and our bad habits for dealing with waste plastics, too. Single-use plastics should be recycled, incinerated for energy or at the very least landfilled — not become litter or marine debris.
Profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive concepts; true sustainability will result in long-term health for the plastics industry.