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George A. Makrauer
March 22, 1999
Who could have imagined that the plastics industry's own success in building a positive, popular image would create a menace more threatening to industry development than the attacks by paper, metal and glass?

In 1990, as chief executive of a leading plastic bag manufacturer and president of the Plastic Bag Association, I was concerned about the growing deselection of our products by consumers, retailers and packaging distributors. Worse, poorly conceived [and] ill-directed public relations efforts within the erstwhile Council for Solid Waste Solutions did nothing to stop the bleeding by plastic bags and ``Styrofoam.''

I took the bull by the horns and met with the president of my principal resin supplier, Bill Lichtenberger of Union Carbide. Bill was not just interested in my information; he was urgently responsive. As a resin industry chief, he had no idea about the battles taking place and being lost by plastics in the trenches, far down the marketing chain.

During our meeting, Lichtenberger began planning a conclave for his peers. That move led to the creation of the American Plastics Council as a voice and vehicle for an industry-unifying national public relations, advertising and product stewardship campaign.

But, I never could have foreseen that later members of APC -- long after Lichtenberger and other founders had moved on -- would become so enchanted with their own organizational prowess that they would take up stations inside the infamous Washington beltway and decide to distort APC into a plastics industry trade association carnivore.

During the past few weeks, it's been a shock to read on Plastics News' pages that the APC, created to be a public relations voice, has been deemed to become a ``full-service trade association,'' with a mission of competing in all areas against SPI.

What's going on here? Whatever it is, it's a shock, because the plastics industry has been extremely well-served by SPI in all areas except for APC's chosen field, its advertising and public relations campaigns. Does it make any sense that, in the name of unity, APC and SPI are about to split and APC -- an elitist group that never deigned to ask processors, distributors, compounders or machinery makers their opinions about anything -- is giving away services to entice Society of the Plastics Industry members to forsake SPI?

It would indeed be a shame, as Sid Rains said in his March 8 letter to Plastics News, if SPI's continuing achievements on behalf of all its members, including resin firms, are sacrificed merely to gratify a few egos. Influential chemical and oil company executives are ignoring the wishes of their own in-the-trenches employees, those sweat-equity contributors who recommend (perhaps too quietly) against APC/SPI separation.

Worse, organizations outside the industry, including the plastics industry's detractors, are just waiting to see internecine discord play into their competitive and regulatory hands. Great leadership with foresight, eh?

Isn't it finally time for APC's leaders to step back and re-evaluate fundamental industry objectives, clamp down on APC's ``inside the beltway'' careerists and go back to its original and laudable aims in concert with SPI's total service programs?

And, if what it takes to maintain industry unity is a reorganization of SPI and APC so that their chief executives and some staff are replaced with individuals who can bring the industry together in a fresh start in the right direction, isn't that a small price to pay?

Makrauer is president of ComAd Management Group Inc., a business management and consulting firm in Treasure Island, Fla.

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