Christmas is just days away, and while some people might think plastic is the new coal (it's not), I'm sure kids won't be unhappy about finding plastic toys and games under the tree. And the holidays look so much prettier with the decorations and lights plastics make possible. Be sure to store yours for next year or recycle them appropriately.
While many of us are busy shopping, wrapping presents and wondering where we fall on Santa's Naughty and Nice List, there are some people out there who are working on a Naughty List of their own. In early January, the folks at U.S. Plastics Pact will publish a list of packaging they call "problematic or unnecessary."
It's unclear exactly how they'll be defining that, but it's not hard to imagine that the people making the decision could have a different perspective than a retailer who knows that customers won't buy scuffed or dented boxes, or a restaurant owner who has relied on takeout containers to keep their business afloat for the past eighteen months. Based on similar lists developed in other countries, we're pretty sure this one will do little more than continue to imply that plastics are the problem.
We agree that using less plastic is a commonsense way to reduce your carbon footprint. If you don't need a plastic fork, don't take one. But also recognize that when we had to share a meal in the park with our friends because COVID kept us from sitting in restaurants, it was very nice to have a plastic fork. What's important is that you — the consumer — could make that decision.
And before we start banning plastic, let's keep in mind that a recent list of relief products for tornado victims in Kentucky contained many plastic products or products hygienically packaged in plastic.
These Naughty Lists are also an easy way to encourage a dangerous process of blame-shifting, attempting to get companies to point the finger at others in their industry. Serving up other plastics to save your own only serves the inevitable goal of organizations trying to eliminate as much plastic as possible.
Often companies feel it's better to be "at the table, rather than on it" but it's a short journey from chair to serving tray once the wolves get done with the first course. That's why it's so important for the plastics industry to speak with a united voice, as it does across the value chain in the Plastics Industry Association.
This isn't the first Naughty List, and it won't be the last; there are already discussions going on about what types of plastics to put on a second-round list. Since we're the Plastics Industry Association and not the "Some Plastics Industry Association," we cannot endorse activities that benefit one material at the expense of others, especially when the justifications for doing so aren't supported by facts or reason.
There's another problem with these Naughty Lists. They don't work. You can't ban your way out of the problem of low recycling participation. So rather than make a Naughty List of our own, we've created a Nice List of solutions for ensuring that plastics are used more circularly and recycled more.
Here's our list:
• Inform consumers about recycling.
• Expand recycling infrastructure.
• Develop new end markets for recycled plastic.
• Support the development of new recycling technologies.
This holiday season, let's forget the Naughty List and focus on a productive Nice List instead. Through efforts like these we can really start to move the needle towards increased recycling rates and creating a more circular plastic ecosystem.
By the way, don't forget to tip your postal carriers for the holidays. While using flexible packaging has certainly made their mailbags lighter, they've been working overtime. May I suggest a plastic gift card?
Tony Radoszewski is president & CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, a trade group based in Washington.