William T. Cruse
Material, Management, Machinery
For more than 30 years, a spokesman for the industry as Executive Vice President of the Society of the Plastics Industry, in large measure responsible for its steady growth and vitality. Instrumental in resolving the "garment-bag" scare -- probably the industry's first public-issue crisis -- through a program of consumer education.
Alexander Parkes, John Wesley Hyatt, Leo Baekeland, and Wallace Carothers, among others, are the distinguished test-tube pioneers whose scientific curiosity was responsible for founding the plastics industry. One wonders if they dreamed just how important the man-made materials they created were going to be.
While these geniuses invented plastics, it took another group of practical men with courage (and often limited capital) to provide the bridge from invention to useful application.
When the processors moved to organize an association, an industry with an awareness of its public responsibility was born: the Society of the Plastics Industry.
Soon after SPI was chartered, the association started fulfilling its public responsibilities, initially in the context of World War II demands. When peace came, the focus shifted. The promulgation of a series of commercial standards was undertaken. This effort built confidence in the plastics industry. Then, in the absence of performance experience, it became necessary to support cooperative research to establish performance criteria and test methods. One of these efforts led to the inauguration of the successful NSF pipe certification program.
Several years ago, when reports began to appear in the press that plastic bags were a hazard to infants, SPI promptly launched a nationwide program to educate the consumer on the correct use of plastic bags.Cooperative research projects, standards, and the plastic bag educational program are examples of an industry fulfilling its public responsibility.
Now we're under attack again: FDA moves to disallow the use of PVC bottles for packaging alcoholic beverages; FTC accuses 26 chemicalcompanies of falsely advertising flammable plastics as nonflammable or self-extinguishing and names SPI and ASTM in the action; the New York City Council singles out plastics packages for a special tax.
When plastics are pointed at as the worst culprits that contaminate the environment, the question inevitably arises, what's wrong? Is it improper application, lack of uniform tests and testing, absence of standards, or inadequate education?
To grow by serving in the future as we have in the past, our industry must be navigated to avoid running around on barriers such as restrictive legislation and regulation.
Plastics are already deeply involved in all the major industries; but that's only the beginning. As we move to exploit the ocean, plastics will be used in many ways: as surface and underwater craft, as ocean platforms, and as piping delivering the ocean's resources to land.
Literally, thousands of human beings would not be alive today were it not for prosthetic devices implanted in their bodies. The time may come when a patient can order a replacement part of his body much as he now buys a new part to replace a worn one for his automobile. Within the next 10 years, plastics will become established as a major material of construction alongside wood.
Fear of a world food shortage is constantly arising. While plastics may not be the complete answer, they are helping to alleviate the situation. Plastics film and piping are being used with a high degree of success in water collection, water storage, and water distribution. With the aid of plastics, crops are now being raised in submarginal land along the sea.
Plastics have done a job in outer space. They have made landings on the moon and the launching of Skylabs possible. As we move to harness the sun's energy, plastics will be enlisted to make this undertaking succeed.
The family of plastics offers a range of properties unmarked by any other class of materials. The future for plastics in our changing society transcends the potential of anything we now know.