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Plastics Industry Struggling with Long-Standing Controversies

Plastics Industry Struggling with Long-Standing Controversies

Two issues have been the bane of the plastics industry for as long as one can remember: The ban on plastic grocery bags and whether the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics such as polycarbonate and PVC is harmful to humans. These issues are flaring up once more -- about a month to go until NPE 2015, one of the global plastics industry's premier trade events -- with a Missouri state lawmaker trying to stop a plastic bag ban in Columbia, MO, and a plastics industry group beginning a campaign to emphasize the safeness of BPA.

As reported in separate articles by Design News sister publication Plastics Today, the American Chemistry Council is looking to piggyback onto recent FDA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reports that determined BPA is safe at current exposure levels in plastics that come into contact with food or the mouths of consumers. Norbert Sparrow of Plastics Today writes that the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group arm of the ACC is going to launch ads in mass outlets like USA Today to emphasize that the EFSA and FDA concluded BPA poses no health risks to humans of any age and is safe, respectively.

BPA is a key ingredient and performance enhancer in the production of polycarbonate, epoxy resins, plasticizers, and PVC. Over the years, negative publicity from studies on BPA's hormone-like properties and toxicity especially on infants, through plastic baby bottles and toys, have led many countries to ban BPA use for those products. In the US, the flames were stoked a few years ago when the FDA identified potential BPA dangers, but the federal agency has since backtracked to the position that BPA is safe at current low levels. BPA has been blamed for a variety of dysfunctions of the brain and reproductive system as well as cancer.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: California's Historic Plastic Bag Ban: It's a Good Thing

"Listen to the Science," the theme of the ACC's ad campaign could be applied well to cities and municipalities around the country that have banned plastic shopping bags because of the belief that they're an environmental scourge. But, as Clare Goldsberry of Plastics Today reports, recycling of plastic film packaging -- which includes plastic bags -- broke double-digits in 2013 with an 11% year-over-year improvement and that collection of post-consumer polyethylene film has increased 75% since 2005.

Is it that the mass media has played on Americans' environmentally friendly emotions or the relative dearth of plastics industry outreach that has led to plastic bags' negative stigma -- or both? For one, Republican State Rep. Dan Shaul is backing legislation opposing the city of Columbia's plan to sack the bags -- which would be the latest in a long string of high-profile bans by cities including San Francisco, Honolulu, and Seattle -- to name three. It is of interest to note that because of Shaul's involvement with a Missouri association for grocery stores, critics are accusing him of having ulterior interests.

Nevertheless, do you think that both plastics bags and BPA have gotten bad raps or should the plastics industry speed up the development and use of viable material alternatives? Offer your views in the comments section below and then read the Plastics Today stories for full details on the two developments.

Will Ng is a perfectionist who has been in business journalism for more than 15 years, many of which have been devoted to covering manufacturing, technology, and industry. A writer first, he loves to tell a good story and enjoys reporting on market trends and news.

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