Washington — Tony Radoszewski says he's beginning his tenure as the new president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association on something of a war footing. The battleground: the waste and environmental issues surrounding plastics.
"At the get-go, the first thing is to recognize that we have a big target on our back," Radoszewski said. "And, in one word, that's unfortunate. We as an industry do so many good things and have for so long."
Radoszewski sat down for an interview in the group's Washington office on Oct. 2, his third week on the job, and began the conversation by offering up the analogy about being a target.
He noted that two weeks earlier, at the association's annual meeting Sept. 18-20 in Cape Coral, Fla., he told the assembled executives he believed the industry is in a "war."
"It's a strong word, and I chose it in particular because it's true," he said. "I feel we're being attacked on so many different fronts."
He sees the industry as needing two responses: Be a clear part of solutions to plastic waste problems and continue to make its case to the public about the benefits of plastic.
There are "fair questions" to be asked about solid waste and plastics, he said, but the longtime industry executive believes that the performance attributes of plastics remain strong.
"The reason why plastics are so abundant today is because the marketplace has decided they're the best alternative to other options," he said. "We always win on the intellectual plane."
But the public opinion landscape as he takes over the association is probably the most challenging it's ever been for the industry, and those challenges are not just coming from politicians or environmental groups.
They are starting to come in the marketplace — and potentially hit the bottom line — as large consumer companies shy away from plastic.
Consumer goods maker Unilever plc, for example, said Oct. 7 it planned to cut its use of virgin plastic in half by 2025. Similarly, PepsiCo Inc. said in mid-September it would cut use of nonrecycled plastic by one-third in that time frame.
"We have to focus on changing public perception, educating the public and influencing organizations of the good things that we're doing," Radoszewski said. "And to demonstrate that we are all in as an industry, that we are not passive bystanders … that we are committed to the solutions that support our goal of being stewards of the environment."
Radoszewski didn't offer any specific new plans or programs in the interview, beyond noting existing recycling trials the association is supporting or efforts like the $1.5 billion Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
He did say he was working on a way for large companies that recently left the association under pressure from environmental groups — such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola Co. and SC Johnson & Son Inc. — to continue to work with the group.
He said it's important for member companies to have a venue to talk regularly with those kinds of companies about their needs around plastic packaging.
"What we want to make sure is that we have some vehicle that allows us to have ongoing dialogue with them, to understand their needs, to craft policy to help formulate new packaging designs that are more environmentally friendly," Radoszewski said.