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Polishing plastics' image.

Worried about your image? For plastics, it's a healthy obsession.

I attended two meetings in the last month that reflect the plastics industry's current obsession with its public image, particularly as it relates to the "environment." I won't say that obsession is misplaced. Recent opinion surveys show that American consumers think plastics are bad for the environment. Last year saw the introduction of over 500 pieces of state and local legislation imposing environmental restrictions on plastics packaging, nearly 80 of which were enacted. The latter figure was twice as high as in 1990.

What will the environmental image of plastics be in the year 2000? I was asked that question as one of a panel of editors invited to address the recent annual meeting of the Vinyl Institute. I said I thought that plastics will have disappeared from the environmentalists' radar screens by that time. Recycling will have become so well established as to be taken for granted. Plastics simply won't be perceived as a problem in that regard. Instead, I predicted, the big battle by then will be over siting of waste-to-energy incineration plants, an issue that will have to be faced if this nation is to get serious about dealing with solid waste. Recyclers by then may have to compete with garbage incinerators for those high-Btu plastics, which will be a preferred fuel.

But for now, plastics' struggle against environmental stigma is far from over. That's why I was again invited along with other editors to a question-and-answer session last month with top officers of the new Partnership for Plastics Progress (see PT, Jan. '92, p. 3). The Partnership is now fully fledged and has put together its program for action (see Industry Newsfocus). One key goal is to help develop "product stewardship" programs throughout not only the plastics industry, but also end-user industries in automotive, appliances, computers and business equipment. This concept of product stewardship involves not only manufacturing a quality product in an environmentally responsible manner, but also taking some responsibility for its ultimate disposal. The idea of a manufacture's cradle-to-grave responsibility for its product is rather new to most of industry.

And the Partnership has committed itself to another interesting plan of sponsoring development of advanced technologies for dealing with plastics waste. Jointly funded co-development of technology within a highly competitive arena could be tricky to pull off. This is not something that American industry has proven itself very good at so far--in the microelectronics and computer industries, for example. Wouldn't it be nice if the plastics industry could show others the way?
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Title Annotation:plastics industry
Author:Naitove, Matthew H.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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