Holidays show that plastics are a big business

Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 11:07 p.m.

Buttonholing new college grad "Ben Braddock" at a party, "Mr. McGuire" says, "I just want to say one word. Plas- tics . . . There's a great future in plastics."

Ben, the Dustin Hoffman character in the 1967 movie "The Graduate," should have listened to Mr. McGuire. Had he put his energy into plastics instead of romancing the Mesdames Robinson, he'd be sitting pretty in 2003.

The prophet McGuire's vision of the future has been revealed this post-holiday season at every big-box and discount chain in Gainesville.

Plastic storage boxes by the trillions stacked outside Wal-Mart. Displays of plastic bins blocking the aisles inside Kmart. Plastic totes being snatched up by the cartload at Target.

"We have no Christmas plastics left," Lenora Baez, a department manager at Target, said on New Year's Eve.

"Christmas plastics" is a retailing niche that includes plastic bins and tote boxes for gift wrap and ornaments - often designed to fit under a bed. They usually come in combinations of red and green so, come December, they can easily be identified as containers of Christmas stuff.

Baez said her store sold hundreds of Christmas plastics. They also did some business in regular plastic boxes large enough to hold fake Christmas trees.

"We pretty much doubled what we did last year in plastics," she said.

As I tried to find my way out of a maze of plastic storage boxes at one store, I wondered: What did we do before these mini-warehouses in plastic came along?

We bought and used only what we needed? Pshaw. If that were true, no one would have invented attics, garages, basements and closets.

If we humans accumulated only what we needed, would there have been any future in mini storage units, portable storage "pods" or eBay (where we attempt to unload stuff we once thought we needed)? Mr. McGuire thinks not.

What has happened is that we have become more organized. At least Rubbermaid and other companies are trying to make us so.

Where once we had a pole and a shelf in our closets, today we have closet-organizing SYSTEMS. Not just a few racks, shelves and bins. Entire systems that let you separate your socks by color, fabric and number of holes in the heels.

Where once we found cardboard boxes to store our stuff, now we have color-coordinated plastic boxes in limitless shapes and sizes.

Got a pair of spare wood screws? Put them in a see-through plastic tote the size of a box of matches. Better yet, Rubbermaid hopes, buy enough of the tiny totes so each screw can be stored separately and stacked by the hundreds in a single-wood-screws retrieval system.

Need something a little bigger? I think I saw outside Wal-Mart a 10,000-quart container large enough to hold one Suburban or three Mini Coopers.

The great future in plastics is now. Where have we gone, Mrs. Robinson?

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