In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Mark Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. He famously replied, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
It seems to me that the plastics industry finds itself in a similar situation these days. With all the negative press and attacks on different fronts, one could assume that at best our industry is on life support, and at worst our obituary is forthcoming. But as with Twain, nothing could be further from the truth.
The reason plastics are so prolific is simply because it is the superior material across a wide variety of applications. From health care to construction to food packaging to transportation, plastics are engineered to be stronger, economical and lighter than its competition. And that's exactly why we're under attack. When you're the leading material, you have a target on your back.
Here's a recent example: The Minderoo Foundation, an Australia-based environmental nonprofit organization, released a report earlier this year to publicly shame plastics producers. They even got former Vice President Al Gore to write the report's foreword. The report's supposed purpose is to disclose the top 20 polymer producers in the world. However, what the report failed to disclose is that the Minderoo Foundation is funded by one of the world's largest suppliers of iron ore. At the very least, this "minor detail" calls into question the credibility of the report's findings.
So, why would an iron ore supplier use an environmental nonprofit to take a cheap shot at the plastics industry?
Politics drive public policy. The elected officials responsible for creating policy are responsive to public perception. The calculation from our competitors is that they can avoid competition on the open market by damaging our reputation with lawmakers enough to restrict our access the market. Our approach has always been to embrace open competition and work toward a more sustainable future rather than taking cheap shots behind front groups.
Do we have a global plastic waste problem? Yes. I represent the plastics industry and I readily admit that fact. The emphasis, however, should be on "waste," not "plastic." What we really have is a recycling participation and recycling infrastructure problem. A recycling system is only as strong as its inputs and capacity to process those inputs.
The plastics industry has invested and continues to invest billions of dollars into new recycling technologies and programs at home and abroad. Our industry is constantly innovating to increase the viability of recycling plastics and using recycled plastics in more and more products.
Some of these innovations include many forms of advanced recycling. Chemical recycling can reduce the polymer back to its original monomer form. Plus, pyrolysis can turn nonrecycled plastics into a synthetic crude oil. There is also gasification for turning nonrecycled plastic materials into a synthesis gas.
Plastics continues to be an exciting industry at the cutting edge of innovation. With all the vibrant, lively activity going on in the plastics industry, we can only give one more suggestion to our adversaries, compliments once again to Twain, "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."
Tony Radoszewski has served as president and CEO of the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association since September 2019 and has more than 40 years of experience within the plastics industry.