United We Stand, Divided We Fall

This article is excerpted from Deborah Ragsdale’s president’s speech, delivered at the 66th Annual IAPD Convention in Tampa, FL, USA on September 14, 2022.

by Deborah Ragsdale, Polymer Industries
IAPD President


heard a story about a successful business owner who was worried about the future of his company. He has three grown sons who are constantly at each other’s throats. He’d like to hand the business over to them, but he’s worried about them destroying it. He worked so hard to build this empire and he had to find a way for his children to work together to ensure a successful future.

One day, he called them to him. He held a bundle of sticks in his hands. He handed the bundle to his oldest child and told him to break it. The first son grabbed the bundle and tried breaking it with his knee, but it wouldn’t even bend. He handed it to his sibling to try and break. The second child tried many ways to break the bundle: he tried stepping on it, throwing it on the ground and tried to break it with his hands. The third son said, “I am stronger than both of you. Let me try.” The bundle of sticks was passed to the third son, who tried to break the sticks with all his might.

The three children brought the bundle of sticks back to the father and said, “We couldn’t break it. Why did you ask us to do this?”

The father took the bundle in his hands and said: “As long as the three of you band together like this bundle of sticks, no one will ever be able to break you apart.”

A headshot portrait photograph of Deborah Ragsdale smiling

The father took three individual sticks out of the bundle and handed one to each of his children, and they each broke their stick in one snap. “That single stick is you when you are alone. When you are without each other, you can be broken easily.”

Sticks can’t be broken while they’re in the bundle, they can only be broken when they are separated. Just like those sticks, we need to band together to stand up to the outside pressures facing the performance plastics industry. In other words: United we stand, divided we fall.

You might recognize this story as an Aesop’s fable, just a fairytale, a bedtime story. But think about the message: If individual members of a group with binding ideals, such as our association, work on their own instead of as a team, they are doomed to fail and will each be defeated. By uniting and collaborating, we can and will be successful in facing the many challenges we see today.

What are the pressures facing the performance plastics industry?

I believe our core issue is our reputation. It impacts so many other problems, such as anti-plastics legislation, the ability to recruit the emerging workforce and even trying to get plastics substituted for what we know are far inferior products.

It is up to us to work together, as an association, as an industry to take control of the narrative about our reputation. We are not consumer grade plastics. We are the performance plastics industry.

It is up to us to show people the differences and to convince all the different audiences out there that there is a difference. We are the ones that make planes lighter, that make wind turbines and solar panels for alternative energy, we contribute vital materials to life saving medical equipment, we help produce the semiconductors that are used in everything these days, including the cellphones in your pockets, the list goes on and on.

We are the International Association of Plastics Distribution – The Performance Plastics Association, and by being united, we can overcome the toughest challenges, starting with the people in this room. Take a look around you.

These are the people we are relying on to do the work of the association. They develop, execute and promote programs, services and events like this convention. It isn’t just one person, look around again. It takes so much to do what IAPD does. Without these volunteers and staff, we would not be where we are today, and we could certainly not move forward. We must all work together to advocate for and defend the performance plastics industry. United we stand, divided we fall.

War on plastics

A critical problem for the industry is the war on plastics in Washington, D.C. You see, the anti-plastics folks don’t know or care about the difference between performance plastics and single-use plastics. To them, all plastics are evil, and they will try again and again to pass legislation designed to limit the use and production of consumer-grade plastics, but it will cripple performance plastics as well.

We must educate lawmakers about the benefits of performance plastics. We need to make sure that the politicians that are elected understand who we are and what we do. That they truly understand that not all plastics are the same, and that performance plastics are making a real difference in the world.

We’ve had some successes, but the war on plastics is still going strong. I’m happy to report that the provisions in the CLEAN Futures Act legislation that we were so concerned about last year — that would have put a moratorium on the building, expansion or repair of any facility that creates plastic resins or engages in recycling plastics or chemicals — was taken out of the final language for the infrastructure bill. We were also able to get language out of that same bill that would have required that lead pipes only be replaced with pipes made from other metals. Thanks to our work, PVC piping will be able to be considered for these projects.

We also successfully defeated a proposed tax on virgin resins. While performance plastics would have been eligible for a rebate, we successfully argued that having our cash tied up in taxes, while waiting for the rebate, would have negatively impacted the industry and the White House’s green energy goals, plus put a huge administrative burden on IAPD members and the government.

Before the pandemic, IAPD organized numerous successful in-person fly-ins, where we had face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress and their staff. We were able to meet lawmakers and tell them about the benefits of the performance plastics industry. Through our team in Washington, we have been able to accomplish spreading the word about the necessity of performance plastics.

I was able to meet every Member of Congress representing my home state of Alabama through these fly-ins. During each meeting, I invited them to come and visit our facility and they came. It is important that they know about what we do and the positive economic impact we make in their district. Plus, they love coming out to meet voters. We need you all to do the same with your elected officials. There is STRENGTH in numbers. United we stand.

When COVID put a pause on our Washington D.C. legislative fly-ins, we switched to virtual fly-ins with Members of Congress. We continued to show them how passionate we are about the performance plastics industry. I thank everyone who attended a virtual fly-in over the past few years and I encourage you all to come with us to Washington when we resume the in-person fly-ins.

Group of people watching an iapd presentation
Shared challenges

What are other pressures the industry faces that, like the bundle of sticks, we can withstand when we are united and work together, but would break if we had to face on our own?

Is it changing the perceptions about the sustainability of performance plastics?

Is it being an attractive place to work for the emerging workforce?

We MUST do better. Better with sustainability and closing the loop with our materials, better creating true cradle-to-grave systems. The future workforce — and your customers — will demand it.

Do we need to change our business cultures?

You might be hiring people who don’t look like you, think like you, have the same political beliefs. They may want to work somewhere that has a higher calling than the financial bottom line. Are you ready?

We are all facing these problems, and we each want to do these things, but HOW?

We can do better when we are united and work together. There is strength in numbers. That’s what an association is all about. United we stand, divided we fall.

Here’s another example of how problems can be overcome when we all work together toward a common goal.

The hunter and the pigeons

There was once a hunter. Day after day he noticed a beautiful flock of pigeons outside his home. He particularly noticed how healthy they were and how many there were. He thought to himself, I would love to have those pigeons. He figured that he couldn’t shoot one when they are all together, because then they will all fly away.

“We must work together to solve the big issues. We can do more together than we can on our own. Here’s what you can do today: Engage with IAPD. Educate your lawmakers about performance plastics. Examine what your company is doing about sustainability. We need to make sustainability a priority, for the good of the industry and our planet.”

One morning, he spread ants on the ground and covered them with a net. The pigeons came down to eat the ants. As they twisted and turned with each bite, they realized it was a trap set by the hunter and their feet were now stuck in the net. The pigeons recognized the dire situation they were in. However, the leader of the pigeons was a wise old pigeon and said not to lose hope. The leader said to them, that if they all made a joint effort, they could get out of this dire situation. The leader was wise and knew they would be stronger together. The leader said that on the count of three, we will all flap our wings as hard as we can, in unison.

The hunter could do nothing but watch sadly as he saw the pigeons flying away with his net. After they landed, about a mile away in a field, a group of field mice came and chewed the net and set each of them free.

United we stand, divided we fall.

They all had to fly in unison. They all had to work together. This is a story of unity, wisdom and friendship.

Labor shortages are affecting each company in the plastics industry. We heard from Danica Chin earlier about how IAPD formed two Workforce Development Task Forces, one that focused on professional positions and one on the skilled trades. They have done a fantastic job in developing videos to make the plastics industry appealing.

It is up to each of us to put our industry in the best light. Children these days don’t grow up thinking, “I want to work in the performance plastics industry one day.” We have to change their minds, but to do that we have to change their opinion of the plastics industry. Not only do we need to change the perception to attract more employees, but for our customers’ sake we need to promote performance plastics to replace metal, glass, wood and concrete.

If we work together, we will be successful. If we fight each other, we will fail.

Action items

We must work together to solve the big issues. We can do more together than we can on our own. United we stand. Here’s what you can do today.

Engage with IAPD. Volunteer on a committee for a cause you are passionate about. Use the educational resources IAPD produces for you, whether that is gaining a certificate or attending one of the monthly webinars. Spread the word about the vast archive of resources and the new content that IAPD produces every year. And remember to share your successes. We are all working toward the same goal: To create a better future with performance plastics.

Another thing you can do is to educate your lawmakers. Educate them on the difference between consumer grade plastics and performance plastics. These aren’t the bags, bottles and straws.

We are the plastics that are pioneering the future. Performance plastics are paving the way for sustainability efforts across the globe. And it all starts in each one of our companies. Let our lawmakers know the differences we are not only making to the local economy, in the community and for the greater good.

Next, examine what your company is doing about sustainability. What are we doing with our scrap? Do we take back materials from customers? Are we reusing everything possible? Do we have recyclers that will come take the materials we can’t use? Are we telling the story about what we are doing to be a sustainable company? As company leaders, we need to make sustainability a priority, for the good of the industry and our planet.

Another action you can take today is to look at our company cultures. Is it inclusive, or does everyone look and talk and think like us? Are “others” welcomed and accepted and feel that they belong? Are we giving everyone the opportunity to succeed? If we don’t know, it’s time to do a culture audit. The DEI Task Force is gathering resources that can help you either get started or continue the journey to inclusiveness.

Lastly, the IAPD Plastics Political Action Committee NEEDS your support financially. With the PAC, we can get the attention of Members of Congress in key positions. Thanks to the PAC, we can meet with them and educate them on the benefits of performance plastics, how the industry is helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs and how it is critical to a better future. I cannot emphasize enough that the IAPD PAC is crucial for the continuation of our fight in Washington to promote and defend performance plastics.

United we stand, divided we fall.

We must all take these actions, one step at a time, as we walk together toward a sustainable future with performance plastics.


At the 2021 convention I shared my personal story with you. The overwhelming grief I felt over the loss of my husbands and over the loss of my son. I told you that one night, I was so angry at God that I screamed at him. He came to me and said look around Deborah, look around. Just as I told you to look around earlier, look to the people around you, surrounding you, facing the same battles you face.

My source of comfort came from my Bible. Ecclesiastes tells me:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. And yet a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12).

The first stick in my bundle of sticks is my husband Ricky Ragsdale. We face everything together, bundled as one. My family, my friends, my church family and my work family, all gather around me and wrap their arms around me and let me know that they are going to be there to keep me from breaking and from falling. Without that united front and having these people with me to this day, I would have never made it out of that hole I was in and I would have easily broken.

United we stand, divided we fall.