Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Others See Us

Since you're visiting here, you probably spend every work-day involved with plastics. Thermoplastic materials are part of our lives and hold no mystery or menace for us. But, as part of preparing for this blog I did a search on Google News using the terms "plastics, polymers". Some of the results offer a window onto how the world outside of our industry views what we do. For example:

Clearly there's a lot of negativity in the "outside world" about our stock-in-trade. The same pressures that were applied to phthalates and PVC are being brought to bear on Bis-Phenol A and polycarbonate. Bans, fees and taxes on polyethylene bags are being proposed and imposed in more and more jurisdictions. And in a more hopeful vein, the mainstream media sit up and take note of developments in "greener" polymer technologies.

It's important to bear in mind that facts and logic play only a subsidiary role in this battle for mindset. What matter are broadly held perceptions. And it does no good to for us to tell one another that the benefits plastic materials bring to society vastly outweigh their potential for harm. That's called "preaching to the choir!"

Now, it's not that there's an existential threat to our industry. Plastics aren't going to "go away." But there is a question as to whether we can expect historic levels of growth in the coming decades...whether plastic solutions will be among the preferred options or confined to legacy applications and "last-resort" status.

If we'd prefer the former state of affairs to the latter then we have to PAY ATTENTION, starting right now, to the perceived societal and environmental effects of all our decisions. We need to get out in front of the problems by considering all impacts of our products and processes. As an industry we will have to embrace life-cycle stewardship.

This is going to be a long story, lasting for the rest of our careers. It'll be a lot more fun to watch if we're proactive rather than reactive. So - what can we do today?

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