As you might guess, each week the latest printed issue of Plastics News lands on our desks and it’s also common to see their website up on someone’s computer as you walk around our offices. Don Loepp is the editor and longtime writer at Plastics News and we thought it would be interesting to ask him a few questions about the plastics industry, the future and some other fun stuff. Enjoy.
How did you become involved in the business of plastics?
I have a journalism degree and worked for daily newspapers in Wisconsin and Virginia for about eight years, the last few on the business desk. I joined Plastics News in 1991, it was not quite two years old. The work was very similar to what I had been doing at daily newspapers, except that the coverage was for a specialized audience, so I did not have to define terms like “extrusion” or “injection molding” in every story, and our scope was more international in coverage.
Tell us a little bit about Plastics News.
Plastics News started as a weekly newspaper in 1989 in Akron, Ohio. It was, and still is, part of Crain Communications, a 100-year-old family-owned media company that specializes in trade magazines. Crain has more than 1,000 employees. Plastics News has about three dozen employees. On the editorial side, we have 12 reporters/editors, plus about the same number of regular freelancers.
What would you say is the most interesting, amusing or crazy story you’ve worked on in the Plastics business?
We’ve had our share of off-beat stories. Sometimes something surprising comes up that generates a lot of reader reaction. For example, a column that one freelancer wrote about attractive models who work at some trade shows got a lot of letters to the editor. We get a lot of positive attention, too. We did a special issue last year about family-owned plastics companies that many people loved, for example (see a few related posts by Loepp here and here).
Plastic bag bans and environmental issues are very common news stories today, yet the plastics business seems to be growing. Any thoughts on the general public’s perception of plastic?
There are a lot of misconceptions about plastics, that’s for sure. A lot of the general public is confused about recycling plastics – what they should and should not put in the recycling bin and what happens to it. It doesn’t help that they hear conflicting messages, or that they learned something a long time ago that may not necessarily be true in the community they live in now. It’s too bad that it’s so confusing. Single-use plastics have been controversial, especially items like grocery bags and polystyrene foam takeout cups and containers. Those are the products that are most frequently the targets of bans, often at the grassroots level. Most of the larger environmental groups are more focused on non-plastics issues, like global warming. But grassroots groups are having success in banning some plastic products in part because a lot of consumers already have a preconceived notion that these plastic products are bad for the environment.
Do you have any predictions about the plastic market for 2017 and beyond?
The North American plastics industry is growing, and it seems likely that it’s going to have a positive trade surplus because there’s so much new capacity for resin being built here, fueled by inexpensive natural gas feedstocks. It used to be that plastics consistently outperformed economic growth. That has slowed in recent years so that plastics growth now mirrors GDP. But it remains a growth industry overall.
What’s the last thing you laughed really hard at?
That’s a good question, it’s hard to answer! I remember laughing at a Saturday Night Live skit a few weeks ago, one of the Family Feud ones. I laughed out loud at a few movies…there was something in La La Land, I don’t remember exactly what it was. Nothing plastics related. I try to find humor in plastics stories and have fun with some of them. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about a group encouraging people to go “topless” (say no to drink cup lids) that I enjoyed. I write a lot of our annual Plastic Globe awards that we run on the editorial page in the last regular issue of every year. A lot of the time Rich Williams, our editorial cartoonist, will do a cartoon that makes me laugh. Some of his cartoons are brilliant.
Many thanks to Don for taking the time. If you’re in the plastics business, follow Don on Twitter for some helpful articles and resources on the business of plastics.