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 E-mail this opinion December 2007

Changing paradigm might aid bag battle
George Makrauer
Comad Management Group
Irvin Rubin [“Bag ban is misguided solution,” Nov. 26, Page 6] and Kevin Kelly [“Kelly to ACC, SPI: Take action on bag bans,” Nov. 26, Page 4] are both right.

Kind of.

A supporting viewpoint says Rubin is too kind in demonstrating bag bans as just “misguided,” and Kelly is too kind in “moderating his criticism” of the American Chemistry Council and Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.

We are a few months past celebrating the 20th anniversary of the remarkable event that started it all — the corrupt Mobro garbage barge public-relations stunt and spectacle in March 1987.

Ever since then — thanks to the then-American Paper Institute (now American Forest and Paper Association), the Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense), Greenpeace (still Greenpeace) and the Environmental Action Council (long since shuttered) — the plastic bag industry has been under insane and unscientific attack. The original cause célèbre was “we’re running out of landfills.” More recently, it’s “we’re being drowned in plastic bag litter.”

For only one period during these 20 years of environmental idiocy regarding packaging materials did public attitudes reverse to the positive, with proposed bans and taxes diminishing. That was during the relatively halcyon days of the American Plastics Council’s founding and first few years of operations under the leadership of its two most effective and personally committed chief executive officers: Bob Lichten¼berger (then head of Union Carbide Plastics) and Ron Yocum (then head of Quantum Chemicals). Both of those career-chemicals industry visionaries understood the implications to plastics and chemicals, of the types of lunacy running rampant at the behest of, and funding by, competing industries, enviromaniacs (who are different from environmentalists), the perpetually ill-informed news media, and elected officials who care about nothing more than their next re-election campaign.

Mr. Rubin’s kind statistics were all developed during the early 1990s, when the former Plastic Bag Association and former American Plastics Council researched, paid for and promulgated them. Mr. Kelly’s kind personal approach was the standard aimed for in dealing with the tensions inherent in the resin makers’ relationships with the resin buyers. Unfortunately, the underlying problem of misunderstanding then remains today.

It’s simply this.

If you are in the business — usually the private or family business — of making thin-film commodity plastic bags, it’s not just your job, it’s your life. You choose to band together in a trade association with other bag producers to fight attacks on your industry … your livelihood. Your goal is to make a difference with industry critics and customers.

But if you are in the business of making commodity bag resins, it’s just your job. Your life is dependent on your department hitting its budget and how well that reflects on your personal contribution to the company attaining its next public financial report and resultant stock price. When you hear — if you even listen — about plastic bag bans and taxes that affect and potentially kill your domestic customers, it’s just another part of the statistical database you spreadsheet for your next executive forecast. If your boss assigns you to a committee or board of a trade association to help the “little guys fight,” it’s not your choice. In fact, it might be your biggest distraction and interference. Your goal is merely to satisfy your boss.

No one should think ACC — which was created out of a perverse melding of the American Plastics Council and the Chemical Manufacturers Association — will change its behavior and effectively fight the plastics industry’s opponents without a paradigm change in ACC governance philosophy about what “materials stewardship” really means and not just kind of means.

George A. Makrauer
Comad Management Group
The Villages, Fla.

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