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August 09, 1999
Attention students of plastics industry history! Thomas McGrath's June 14, Page 9 letter, "SPI should revisit age-old dues proposal,'' is revisionist solid waste.

First, McGrath's recollection that, "In 1968 [he] organized the first SPI environmental committee -- the Plastics Solid Waste Committee -- which, through many name changes and mission statements, became the American Plastics Council,'' would be laughable, if it weren't tragic, because it's absolute nonsense.

In those days, the Public Affairs Council of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. hatched the idea for a PR solution for bottles by publishing a little blue booklet filled with the defensive "Are plastics suitable for sanitary landfill?'' and other similar "let the attackers define the argument'' white-paper stuff, which subsequent history has shown worthless in educating and changing the opinions of industry outsiders.

It was too poorly done to be public relations. It was the wrong message. It was directed to the wrong audience. It became the thought-basis for what characterized plastics industry communications over the subsequent two decades. By its inadequacies, it invited people into loving to hate plastics until APC -- conceived, developed and implemented in the 1990s without McGrath's help -- was firmly established, and it launched its effective advertising program and made its most successful mark.

Second, McGrath says the current industry "situation calls for radical changes if SPI is to continue and be relevant. [He] suggests that SPI search its files and review [his 1960s dues] proposal.'' He contends, "It would be a way for APC, and other plastics organizations to affiliate with SPI, productively share their common objectives and problems, and make the plastics industry's voice stronger while emanating from a single source.''

McGrath misses the point entirely. Radical changes have taken place. Today's industry schism is those radical changes. The schism is not dues-based. It is the result of 24 chemical companies being led to believe they should be making the majority decision on all industry issues that affect more than 2,000 dues-paying SPI members who are equally committed, equally bright and equally competent to help chart the industry's future course.

McGrath's memory about his self-funding dues allocation master plan does not jibe with additional recollections. Others sadly recall that plan proposal and controversy eventually saw SPI's loss of the then very important and eminent Plastic Pipe Institute, made up of about 200 dues-paying SPI members. That's hardly a description of "succeed[ing] in getting the program adopted with a minimum loss of membership.''

It was no stroke of fate that McGrath's ancient plan went nowhere then, and it's no restructuring of SPI dues that will singly solve the industry's internecine problems today. The present is tough enough. Attempts at revisionist history should be shunned. Something's run amok between APC and SPI.

I propose a trade: Yocum and Thomas (treated decently and with respect) in exchange for industry peace and reunification. Kosovo, anyone?

George A. Makrauer

ComAd Management Group Inc.

Treasure Island, Fla.

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