Real sustainability can improve plastics’ image without sacrificing profitability

Posted on January 9th, 2019 by plasticycle

Plastics News
January 8, 2019
Don Loepp

Plastics have suffered from an image problem for decades. But 2018 may be remembered as a tipping point, when negative public opinion started to cause real harm to the industry.

But that doesn’t have to happen. Reasonable people, even critics, understand that plastics provide benefits to society: saving both money and natural resources, and making products safer, including food, transportation and medical care.

The industry needs to do more to highlight the benefits of plastics. That’s been a tenet of Plastics News‘ editorial philosophy since we started publishing 30 years ago. We’ve seen efforts come and go, and we’ve tried to encourage the best ones.

Still, we can’t pretend that plastics’ image problem is not, at least partially, deserved. When it comes to waste, plastics deserve a failing grade.

Obviously some of the responsibility belongs to society. For years, in this annual column, I have been saying that we need 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.

Some in the United States point to Asia as the source of the current marine debris problem. But it is time to take responsibility. We export plastic resin globally and our bad habits for dealing with waste plastics, too. Single-use plastics should be recycled, incinerated for energy or at the very least landfilled — not become litter or marine debris.

Profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive concepts; true sustainability will result in long-term health for the plastics industry.

Editorial agenda

We’ve published our editorial agenda in the first issue of Plastics News every year since 2001, and we’ve been consistent in saying that safety must be every company’s top priority. That includes keeping workers safe and making products that consumers can use with confidence.

Our agenda is the foundation for our weekly opinion columns, and it offers a blueprint for a prosperous and sustainable plastics industry. With the start of a new year, Plastics News updates and restates its editorial agenda:

• 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, you’d better re-evaluate your efforts.

• For too long, plastics have suffered from an image problem. The industry must combat misinformation by highlighting the benefits of plastics.

• Sustainability is a priority. Companies should consider sustainability when making decisions about resource utilization, including material selection and energy use.

• Recycling must be encouraged. The industry should support state and national bottle bills since bottle-deposit programs have proved effective in collecting a clean, valuable recycling stream.

• 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.

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