Cincinnati — For plastics to be successful, the plastics industry has to be honest with itself.
That's the message from Ed Hall, CEO of additives maker Baerlocher USA.
And that honesty includes being clear about where the use of plastics make sense and where the material should not be used, Hall said during the second annual Baerlocher Recycling Summit, held recently in Cincinnati.
"If we're honest with ourselves, there are things we shouldn't probably use — either types of plastics or applications. So we've got to be honest with ourselves," he said, to be viewed as being credible by society.
And make no mistake: Plastics do need to look at ways to help improve the industry's reputation, Hall told the recycling summit crowd.
One way to sway opinion is to increase collection rates for used plastics. "We all know that most of the plastics out there isn't being collected," Hall said. "That's a lot of money. There's a lot of money out there [in plastics] that we can grab and turn into something valuable."
Plastic waste in the environment deteriorates the public's view of the material, and that's understandable, he said.
Nobody wants garbage in their yards or the environment, so finding ways to better collect and value the material is key to improving the material's image, he said.
Another important step is a willingness to use recycled plastic in new ways.
"Sometimes we limit ourselves. If there are marketing people in here, sorry," he told the conference crowd. "But sometimes in the marketing side, we restrict the use of these materials for our engineers."
That's because recycled plastics can face color or clarity challenges not found when using virgin resins.
Hall said he would like to see more of a willingness from the marketing side of companies to accept the differences that come with recycled resin. He said brands can market their products differently to embrace the change in packaging appearance.
Better product design is a key to ensuring that plastics get used properly and are then recycled, Hall said.
Many people in the world already hate plastics and those in the industry, the CEO said, and there's even some on the virgin resin side that do not like the recycled side. But plastics, he said, play an important role considering their versatility. "Why would we want to eliminate plastics when you look at what we can do with it?" he asked.
"The goal is to be more successful in plastics recycling. So what does success mean? It's a very subjective thing. There are different reasons why people are here. Sometimes the success for you would be improving our reputation in the plastics industry — in the plastics industry and outside the plastics industry," Hall said.
Baerlocher USA, based near Cincinnati, is a unit of Baerlocher GmbH of Munich.