We've published our editorial agenda in the first issue of Plastics News every year since 2001. It's the foundation for our weekly opinion columns, and it also offers a blueprint for a prosperous and sustainable plastics industry.
This year we are emphasizing one point of the agenda, related to the industry's image. For too long, plastics have suffered from an image problem. If anything, the situation is getting worse.
Some consumers now think that replacing plastic with paper, glass or metal is automatically better for the environment, regardless of the economics, carbon footprint or recyclability of the alternatives.
We're also seeing otherwise serious news media write stories suggesting that all plastics should be banned and that doing so would "save the planet."
The industry must work to credibly combat misinformation. That doesn't mean dismissing legitimate issues or automatically assuming that any criticism of plastics is wrong. But it does mean highlighting the benefits of plastics and working to make plastics safe and sustainable.
Here's the rest of our editorial agenda:
• Safety must be every company's top priority. That includes keeping workers safe and making products that consumers can use with confidence.
• Consumers, regulators and legislators have a responsibility to deal with plastics-related issues without bias. Bans and taxes that encourage replacing plastic products with less sustainable alternative materials must be discouraged.
• Fairness and honesty should be key parts of business relationships. Would your mother be proud of the way you do business? If not, then you'd better reevaluate your efforts.
• Sustainability is a priority. Companies should consider sustainability when making decisions about resource utilization, including material selection and energy use. Profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive concepts; true sustainability will result in long-term health for the plastics industry.
• The industry needs to do more to encourage recycling. Americans, with the encouragement of the industry, have become too comfortable in their habit of throwing away used plastics. Now that bad habit has gone global. When possible, plastics should be reused or recycled instead of thrown away or littered.
• The industry should support state and national bottle bills, since deposit programs have proved effective in collecting a clean, valuable recycling stream. The industry should support extended producer responsibility when it has a positive role in making plastics a more sustainable part of the circular economy.
• Companies and their leaders should take an active role in their communities and in trade groups. Local officials need to be aware of the plastics industry's size and importance so they know that plastics are a significant employer and contributor to the local, national and global economies.
• The industry should speak with a unified voice. This requires cooperation at all levels of the leading trade associations, as well as international and regional groups and with business, consumer and environmental organizations.
• The free market is the best mechanism for raising the standard of living, encouraging democracy and rewarding hard work. Free trade encourages efficiency and inspires stability around the world. Government tax policies should motivate entrepreneurs and investors, help industry compete globally and strive for fairness.
• All sectors of the plastics industry must recruit and retain talented workers. That means paying a fair wage and offering attractive benefits. Having a well-trained and flexible workforce is a competitive advantage, so employers should support education and training. Employers also should embrace diversity in their workforces, including opportunities for women.
Don Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.