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It's time to think about a Plastics Manufacturing Day

It appears from accounts of the many successful events (2,620 to be exact) held in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico on Manufacturing Day 2015 that this annual event is making a difference and helping to change the perception of manufacturing. A report from the event's producers noted that they "could not be more pleased with the results of the 2015 celebration."

Ed Youdell, President and CEO of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA), one of the co-producing organizations, said, "Our goal, when we created Manufacturing Day just three years ago, was to bring manufacturing into the mainstream. We wanted to showcase this important sector of the American economy and introduce young people to the career options and exciting work environments manufacturing offers."

The 2015 Manufacturing Day events held nationwide "exceeded expectations of scale and impact," said a report from organizers, "reaching more than 400,000 participants and improving the public's perception of manufacturing."

Educators' responses to the survey taken to gauge the success of the various events illustrated the positive impact Manufacturing Day has on public perception. "Ninety percent indicated they are more likely to encourage students to pursue a career in manufacturing and 91% found the activities/tours to be interesting and engaging."

Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, commented, "This survey further demonstrates the changing perception of manufacturing across the country, particularly among young people, and we have events like Manufacturing Day to thank in large part for this positive trend."

Manufacturing Day addresses common misperceptions about manufacturing by giving manufacturers an opportunity open their doors and show, in a coordinated effort, what manufacturing is—and what it isn't, said the report. By working together during and after Manufacturing Day, manufacturers begin to address the skilled labor shortage they face, connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing and ensure the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry.

Reading that summary of the success of Manufacturing Day got me to thinking that perhaps the plastics industry could learn from this. Perhaps we need a Plastics Manufacturing Day, encouraging plastics processors across the country to open their doors to the public—especially the mainstream news media—and show from a scientific point of view just how environmentally friendly and clean plastics processing really is.

Processors could present seminars and explain the science of plastics; show the benefits of using plastics instead of paper, glass or metal; demonstrate how it reduces the weight of cars, trucks and airplanes, allowing these forms of transportation to use less fuel and transport people and goods greater distances more efficiently and in a much more environmentally friendly way. We could address a variety of other end markets, including medical, and talk about what plastics has done for that industry with regard to single-use devices that prevent the spread of disease; the benefits of plastics packaging to improve food safety and increase shelf life; its advantages in cosmetics, electronics, building and construction materials and much more.

Plastic doesn't have an environmental problem—it has a perception problem. People don't understand the science of plastics or the multitude of benefits that plastics bring to nearly everything in our lives. Knowledge is key to helping people change their perception of plastics and the value of the industry to our everyday lives.

We in the plastics industry need to start stepping up to the plate and controlling the message. If you are afraid of not being perceived as "green," then it's time to start getting your message out there! Many people in the industry and even in trade groups won't speak out in a scientific way against those who spread hype and unscientific information about plastics. Not standing up and speaking out about our industry will allow those who would rid the world of plastic to control the message, resulting in greater difficulties for the industry.

Being proactive in getting our message out through something like a Plastics Manufacturing Day just might alter the image of plastics and change the perception that people have of this wonderful material that we'd be hard-pressed to live without.

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