Picking stories for the front page of Plastics News isn't easy these days. Take our May 20 issue, for example.
Two big research reports came out on deadline that week with conclusions that slammed plastics. The popular media was covering them, and I was seeing headlines like this from London's Telegraph newspaper: "Plastics killing up to a million people a year, warns Sir David Attenborough." And this one from the Huffington Post: "Plastics aren't just polluting — they're making climate change worse."
We covered those research reports, too, of course. Jim Johnson wrote balanced stories that looked at the claims and also gave prominent attention to the industry's response.
So my question on deadline was, do the stories go on Page 1? Or should we downplay stories that blame plastics for climate change and death because the plastics industry was questioning the conclusions?
The answer is that I couldn't. But I imagine some of our readers were shocked by the scary headlines. I felt good knowing that if they read past the headlines, they got a fuller understanding of the issue. But I still felt unsatisfied.
I think that's because we're faced with a problem of perspective on plastics. Are we optimistic or pessimistic?
We're living in a Plastics Age. Plastics have seen incredible global growth in nearly every end market. Plastics save energy and natural resources, and they make products more affordable.
But plastics have created some big problems, too, and those problems have been getting worse as production and consumption have grown. We've known about problems like marine debris for decades. But the early alarms were mostly ignored, and now the warnings are becoming dire.
Plastics have long suffered from an image problem. But what we've seen recently has been more serious, and more critical, than ever.
Product bans are becoming everyday news on the local, state and national level. The industry's aggressive recycling goals look like they might be unreachable. And now even Congress is calling for action, which is something that seemed unlikely just a few years ago.
Still, there's plenty to be optimistic about because the plastics industry is finally responding in meaningful ways. More plastics companies are signing on to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, for example. And some of the largest plastics companies and their customers have committed more than $1 billion through the Alliance to End Plastic Waste to develop and solutions that will minimize plastic waste and pollution.
The issues finally seem solvable. But did the industry wait too long to act? I don't think so, but it's going to take a massive effort on behalf of the entire plastics industry. The era of blaming consumers is over, which is clear from the industry reaction.
I don't think it's realistic to think that the world will give up all the benefits that plastics provide. So, are you feeling optimistic or pessimistic about prospects for plastics' place in a global circular economy?
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.