Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Relatively Speaking, My Brother In-Law and I Find Common Ground

Last weekend my wife and I flew to California to meet my sister in-law’s fiancé for the first time. Unfortunately my soon-to-be brother in-law and I got off on the wrong foot.  Mike seemed to be the type of guy who saw public policy issues concerning the environment in only black or white terms. Put it this way: If plastic was the only available choice of bag, Mike would rather walk miles with a heavy and cumbersome load of grocery items in his arms. I recognized that Mike and I would not see eye-to-eye on a number of issues. But could we at least find some common ground?          

 Upon learning that I worked on behalf of the plastics industry, Mike questioned how I could live with myself.  Instead of debating, I played nice and brushed off his accusations with humor and other means of deflection. While I managed to diffuse the situation for a time, I realized that this issue would return before I left for home. Sure enough, during dinner one night, Mike informed the family that he recently purchased a hybrid vehicle (a Toyota Prius specifically) and has managed to achieve a  fuel economy of more than 50 miles to the gallon. So he said while I was “killing the environment,” he was doing his best to help “Mother Earth.”  Everyone turned to me for a response. 

For my wife’s sake, I once again attempted to avoid the conflict that was brewing. But it was proving difficult.  So I began discussing the energy saving attributes of plastics. I cited the plastic window kits that insulate houses during the winter. I noted the amount of fuel that is saved by using plastic in a car—noting that every pound of plastic in a car replaces up to three pounds of other materials, which can increase a car’s fuel economy by 6%.  I also mentioned that the material of choice for windmill rotor blades is carbon filament-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and glass fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP).  I also underscored the need for municipalities to improve recycling efforts, and innovative plastics projects and programs involving waste-to-energy.  I even told him all the ways our trade show, NPE2009, showcased how plastics contribute to a sustainable world.

Maybe it was my convincing argument, or the not so gentle nudge by my sister in-law, but the heated debate soon ended with Mike nodding and saying “I never thought of that.”

When I returned to D.C., I came across another really interesting article that discussed efforts to reduce vehicle weight further via plastic engines. I e-mailed it to Mike with a simple message: “Imagine the possibilities with plastics.” Surprisingly, Mike called me from his honeymoon to apologize for his abrasive behavior, and thanked me for opening his eyes to the ways  plastics contribute to sustainability. 

Although I don’t think Mike will be asking for plastic bags at the grocery store anytime soon, I do believe he is a little less rigid in his atitude toward polymeric materials.

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