I doubt I’m the only one to have noticed that there’s been quite an eruption of anti-plastics headlines in the news lately. Whenever I turn on the television or open a newspaper, if someone’s not banning plastic shopping bags, they’re sounding dire warnings of lead in toys, phthalates in baby bibs, bisphenol-A in baby bottles, PFOA in frying pans, and vinyl in anything. Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target all pledge to reduce the presence of PVC in their wares. A Canadian retailer banishes polycarbonate water bottles from its shelves. California is banning phthalates in some children’s products. There’s no question that the volume and frequency of such anti-plastics messages has increased of late. What’s going on?
Maybe America’s in a disgruntled mood these days. There are worries about war and terrorism. The economy’s not so hot. It’s an election season, and politicians are inviting us to exercise our discontent at the polls. And there’s no question that some sub-standard Chinese imports have spawned many alarming headlines.
What can, or should, we in the plastics industry do about this trend? The answer is probably not to put our heads down and hope the storm will pass. As any politician will tell you, a negative story unanswered is a smear believed by the public. I was pleased to see a story in The New York Times just last month that quoted a Vinyl Institute spokesman to the effect that U.S. PVC industry stopped using lead in most products years ago. Rather than just fuming over what I have been reading in the paper, I finally roused myself to write a couple of letters to the Times addressing ill-informed articles claiming that plastic bags had something to do with global warming or that lead in paint and lead in plastic were the same thing. I contacted the reporters directly and offered them some educated perspective, some knowledgeable sources they could contact, and a caution that they probably should not quote “campaigners” from some little-known, self-styled “environmental” organization about the evils of vinyl without doing some fact checking first.
We have to answer fear-mongering with facts. If you need information to counter anti-plastics eruptions in your community, here are some resources:
The American Chemistry Council: www.americanchemistry.com/plastics; www.bisphenol-a.org; www.phthalates.org
The Society of the Plastics Industry: www.plasticsindustry.org; www.plasticbag.com; www.pfoa-facts.com
The Vinyl Institute: www.vinylinfo.org
Phthalates Information Centre Europe: www.phthalates.com
The American Council on Science and Health: www.acsh.org