Long Live Plastics

The London Museum is planning a special exhibit to mark the centennial of a material that was long denigrated–plastics. It will cover the massive importance of this material to our modern way of life and the ways in which early plastics added color and durability to an array of household items: Bakelite, clocks, tupperware, condoms, even auto bodies, PVC pipe, and siding.

Sadly, it is unlikely to discuss the communication strategy of the plastics industry that has led to this re-legitimization of plastics. In the 1990s the American Plastics Council (now integrated into the American Chemistry Council) decided to fight back, to clarify to the citizenry the virtues of this amazing material. The resulting ad campaign was one of the most effective in modern history. State and local anti-plastic legislation dried up, plastics moved out of the pariah category, becoming “respectable” once again. The plastics industry had “created its corporate soul.”

Sadly, that lesson was never learned by industry in general, by the larger chemical industry at all.