Friday, April 26th, 2013

Busting Myths About Plastics Can Save American Jobs

A planet this beautiful deserves to be treated fairly. (Photo: NASA)

A planet this beautiful deserves to be treated with great care, and fairly. (Photo: NASA)

In stark contrast with its good intentions, the annual April 22nd Earth Day celebration never fails to resurrect many of the myths about plastics. Sadly, this year again saw many of the tired old plastics myths rise like zombies and stumble, maybe not through your town, but surely through the media.

Even the real science that clearly shows these fanciful tales are nothing but myths is not enough to kill them. Science is simply and conveniently ignored.

These zombie myths are far from harmless, however. For starters, they needlessly alarm the public. That’s bad enough, but the resulting hysteria then gets twisted in a way that directly threatens American manufacturing jobs in the plastics industry. Does anyone doubt we need more good jobs, not fewer?

These persistent plastics myths spring from and are kept alive by a variety of sources. Among the loudest are:

  • Environmental activists and non-government organizations promoting their agendas,
  • Journalists that fail to do basic research and simply repeat the myths,
  • Businesses with a competing alternative material, or,
  • Retailers that give in to the outcries of alarmist special interest groups.

The links below describe some of the more commonly heard myths about plastics. Click on them to see the facts about the safe use of plastic products, facts provided by experts in government, academia and industry. 

Common Myths About Plastics

  1. Using plastic food containers or wraps in microwaves is dangerous.
  2. Freezing water in plastic bottles releases dioxins into the water.
  3. The number on the bottom of plastic cups, bottles and containers informs consumers about how to use a product or package.
  4. Plastic food wraps and packages are made with phthalates.
  5. Six-pack rings (beverage can binders) are a hazard to wildlife.

The myth mongers seem oblivious to the negative effects of their story telling, such as how they can wipe out well-paying jobs in America’s third-largest manufacturing sector—plastics. It is far more likely that they wear blinders by choice as they promote their agendas.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the zombie plastics myths abruptly dropped in their tracks like movie zombies often do. Not likely. In real life, the myth mongers work hard to keep the zombie plastic myths circulating. For many  it’s how they make their living. However, since facts are the best antidote for myths, arm yourself with the Plastics Champion described below.

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Have a Database of Facts About Plastics at Your Fingertips

Plastics-Champion-larger-logo-3SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, in cooperation with seven other plastics-related associations, has published an online database of factual information about plastics called the Plastics Champion, and it’s yours to download or access online at no cost. You can find it  here: www.plasticschampion.org. For the iPhone and iPad, it’s free on the Apple App Store or via iTunes. Search ‘Plastics Champion’ or use this link. An Android app is being developed, but for now the website is mobile browser friendly. With  the Plastics Champion at hand you may actually enjoy your next encounter with a plastics myth spinner.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Manipulating Dr. Seuss to Make Kids Afraid of Plastics

A new animated film based very, very loosely on the classic Dr. Seuss children’s book The Lorax will be in theaters on March 2, 2012. It’s from the makers of Despicable Me, which I enjoyed, but if you are in the plastics business I doubt you will enjoy the film version of The Lorax – unless, that is, you like being presented as a villain, a real bad guy, and an ugly person who is nasty to young kids.

The just-released promotional trailer gives you a good idea of how the film does that to you, and makes it clear why you are evil, so go ahead and watch, but I wouldn’t say enjoy.

Before you start looking for

that old copy of The Lorax that you used to read to your kids, or still do, the book does not contain any reference at all to plastic, nothing, nada, zilch, not a word. You can thank Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment, the film’s creators, for making plastics and plastics industry people into mean, nasty villains. Won’t it be fun explaining this to your kids?

I try to be polite on this blog, even when people slam plastics using junk science, baseless rumors, or their personal fears based on something they heard somebody say sometime somewhere. But using Dr. Seuss to turn kids against me . . . well that’s a big click too far. Published in 1971, the original book definitely has an environmental theme, and a villain chopping down all the trees, but the villain isn’t plastics or the plastic industry.

I doubt that Dr. Seuss, bless him, would ever have created a nasty villain scaring little kids. So before I become loud and profane, note that you have three months before the film comes out; less if your kids see the trailer sooner.

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Memorial Day


SPI offers the following post by a member of our staff in observance of Memorial Day — a day set aside to honor those men and women who died in the service of their country, protecting and preserving the freedoms we enjoy.

In 1973 I was a junior at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. The Vietnam draft lottery rolled up and, like all my friends, I went to the local radio station – WHUN – to read the telex, carefully watching the scrolling birthday assignments. I did not win.  My number was pretty low. This meant that in a year or so,  I could be “in country”  — and that did not mean in the United States. 

I waited for the letter that would let me know where I should report for my preliminary physical. Some older acquaintances had gone to war and died, some were back in pieces, or perhaps worse, with post shock — what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.  Emotionally it was a time of high anxiety — something like waiting and hoping to hear that your high school girlfriend was just late and not pregnant. But worse.

And then, suddenly, it was over.  The draft was gone. Poof.  I was released.

As I finished college, (mostly) finished graduate school, found a career and a life, I put all of this behind me.  Well, not so much.

Today I work with these men who are just a little older than me.  I’ve met dozens who served “in country”  and did extraordinary and horrifying things. Despite the shattering experiences, many still walk among us. Guys named Frank, Mike, Joe and Tom — they are a bit worse for wear, but wry and real. 

They did things we cannot comprehend. War is different now: satellites, unmanned drones, robots and distance weapons quite often take the harsh immediacy provided by our eyeballs out of the equation. Not for them.  They were up close and personal. You don’t want to know.

I have tried to say this to each one of them: I am grateful. I am honored to know you and deeply thank you for your service for us all. Sometimes I tell them that I feel guilty.

Friday, February 12th, 2010

“Green Police” Capture Unfair Biases But Miss the Truth

President's Post

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a big fan of the Indianapolis Colts. But it wasn’t the New Orleans Saints victory over my hometown team in the Super Bowl that upset me the most last Sunday evening. No, what got me miffed was that preachy “Green Police” Audi commercial that I saw during the fourth quarter. (See Barry Eisenberg’s blog post for the details on the ad and why our industry was not amused.) 

A splashy ad that paints plastics with a broad “environmentally unfriendly” brush gets me riled up because it places a premium on being funny rather than true. The “Green Police” ad reinforces the same tired and, frankly, ignorant biases against plastics that my SPI team and I have been trying to educate people about since I became president of the association.  In 2008 and 2009 combined I personally gave about 50 presentations seen by approximately 10,000 people that centered on how plastics contribute to a more sustainable world. But in one fell 60-second swoop, more than 100 million people saw an ad that preyed on preconceived notions of plastics. (According to the Nielsen Co., more than 106 million people watched the Super Bowl, making it the most-watched program in U.S. television.)

But unfair bias works both ways and I believe the ad also magnified the negative perceptions people have about environmentalists being crazy extremists. The New York Times called the Audi ad a “misguided spot that put the ‘mental’ in ‘environmental.’”  Scott Cooney, author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur, writes that the Audi ad:

…quickly turned into yet another perhaps well-intentioned ad that casts environmentalists, frankly, as wack-jobs… Perhaps the most offensive, to those of us in the sustainability movement was where an army of “Green Police,” prowling through people’s trash, finds a battery and storms the house of the offender. While I suppose the ad execs who came up with it thought they were brilliant, I would only imagine most in the sustainability movement, like me, groaned at the implication that people who care about the environment are psychotic enough to prosecute people who choose plastic at the grocery store or don’t compost their scraps.  Ugh, Middle America just took another unneeded step away from feeling that sustainability is cool, easy, and normal.

I’ve worked in the plastics industry for more than 20 years and I am so proud of the innovative contributions our industry has made to the automobile industry. That’s why Audi’s ad leaves many of us industry veterans feeling as if we’ve been slapped in the face by a loved one. ”Truth in Engineering” is the name of the advertising campaign Audi launched in 2007 and it is the tag line at the end of the “Green Police ” ad.  I wish Audi had given “Truth in Advertising” equal billing.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The Rise and Fall (and Rebirth?) of Science Journalism

On December 3rd in Atlanta, SPI’s Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) will join media analysts and officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking on one of the greatest challenges currently facing the plastics industry, consumers and the regulatory agencies that seek to protect human and environmental health while promoting innovation: The misreporting and intentional distortion of science in the news media.

There are all manner of booksweb sites, reportscolumns and more web sites devoted to this topic. Prompted in part by CNN‘s decision one year ago to cut  its entire space, science and environment unit, the World Federation of Science Journalists hosted a press briefing  in February titled, “Is Science Journalism in Crisis?

Reporting on science has suffered a marked decline in quality, accuracy and breadth of coverage in recent years for a variety of reasons, many of them economic and political.  Under competition from Internet sources like blogs and online videos, science journalists are often the first to be laid off from traditional news organizations. We’re left with journalists who have little or no science background doing their best to write the occasional science story, often using the very blogs and online videos that are competing for their jobs to drum up hot stories. Instead they should be turning directly to the scientific community and the peer-reviewed journals for science stories.  Unfortunately, the blogosphere and the online video channels, and by extension the journalism that relies on them, are rife with unreliable information and scientific claims of questionable origin.

The end result is that the public is often fed misinformation from trusted media outlets that misinterpret or, worse still, intentionally misuse scientific studies to put out sensational stories.  The danger is that society can be led to divert significant time and money away from serious problems to issues that the most rigorous science available suggests are of comparatively low concern for the health and well-being of people and planet.

Consumers can also be put at risk by news stories that direct them to choose certain products on the basis of poorly designed or biased scientific studies.  Instead of making well-informed product choices and having a reasoned discourse on critical issues like consumer health, the global environment and the efficacy of our regulatory agencies, we’re all busy trading narratives manufactured by struggling media outlets and agenda pushers.

A recent editorial in Nature decried the decline in science journalism and challenged scientists to step up and fill the void directly by blogging and sharing their research through channels that are more accessible to the public than peer-reviewed academic journals.

Those gathered in Atlanta for the FDCPMC Winter Conference will examine ways that they, too, can get involved in correcting misinformation in the news media. Perhaps one way is by helping reporters without scientific backgrounds gain access to clear, easy-to-understand, sound science on the issues they are covering.  Conference attendees will explore the roles that industry, the research community, the regulatory agencies and media watchdogs can play in ensuring that the public receives the full story and can make educated decisions about the products they use, the materials they trust, and the policies they support.  Everyone stands to gain when people are empowered to make decisions based on the best information available.