Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Op-Ed from SPI President and CEO William Carteaux: Remember, We’re All on the Same Team

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 8, 2014 edition of Plastics News.

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

Plastics is an extremely diverse industry, with companies using several different business models to successfully sell a wide variety of products to hundreds of different sectors and customer bases. But it’s important to remember that, when it comes to how consumers and policymakers treat, regulate and think of plastics, we’re all on the same team.

So it’s sad to see that some companies in our industry can’t recognize the harm they do when they traffic in scientific misinformation to gain a competitive edge over other members of their industry. Competition and business rivalries are as old as capitalism, and often they’re what drive our companies to innovate and become stronger, ultimately pushing our entire industry forward. But when those competitions and rivalries devolve into companies using baseless, unscientific claims to scare up sales then everybody loses.

Instead of capitalizing on consumer confusion in the hopes of increasing their market share, plastics companies throughout the supply chain should be working together to address the threats facing their industry, the most notable of which is the wave of anti-plastics sentiment being stoked by anti-plastics advocates after successfully banning plastic bags in California. But plastic bags are only the beginning. Just after California’s ban was signed into law, anti-plastics groups were already hailing the bill as “a good start” and regrouping to target new materials and plastic products for regulation. At a time like this, when plastics faces such a serious threat, our industry can’t afford to give into environmental, health and safety misinformation in the hopes that doing so will give one company a boost in sales. Companies that do use unscientific claims to promote their products gain only a temporary benefit while doing a lasting disservice to their industry.

While a tide of anti-plastics sentiment threatens all of us, it’s a challenge that can be overcome if the plastics industry presents a unified front, focused on innovation and supported by the facts. Flirting with misinformation and capitalizing on public confusion might yield some temporary benefits, but in the end you’re only hurting yourself and your teammates.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

A Deep Dive: Twenty-Eight Years and Counting, SPI Remains Committed to Eliminating Marine Debris

FriendlyTurtle_AnimatedWebTwenty-eight years ago, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association helped organize the nation’s first formal beach cleanup, as part of the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign. With SPI’s support, the event helped bring nearly 3,000 people to a Texas beach one day in 1986 to help pick up litter, giving birth to an annual tradition that has grown to the point where in the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup, nearly 650,000 volunteers across the world picked up more than 12.3 million pounds of trash from the planet’s beaches.

Before the very first beach cleanup, the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a comprehensive study that revealed that plastics debris was a nationwide problem for marine wildlife, which ultimately prompted the event and SPI’s involvement. At the time, CMC asked SPI to “become part of the solution,” an invitation the association and the entire plastics accepted in 1986, and continued to accept every day thereafter.

Recent reports suggest that marine debris is still a serious problem, and SPI remains as concerned and committed to eliminating pollution in our oceans and waterways as it was nearly three decades ago. Plastics are among the many products that can find their way into oceans through accidental spills, improper consumer disposal or inefficient manufacturing processes. Marine debris impacts much more than just the appearance of the natural environment—it affects everything from the safety of the tiniest coral polyps, sea turtles and giant blue whales to local economies, fishing and navigation and even the health and safety of the humans who create the litter.

Because SPI understands its responsibility to the public and the environment, the organization has a long history of working with its members on best practices that advance business sustainability and permit companies to establish themselves as leaders in this space. The result of these efforts has been a series of programs designed to promote zero waste throughout the plastics supply chain, but as far as preventing plastics from entering in the marine environment is concerned, the flagship program is Operation Clean Sweep (OCS).

“SPI remains firmly committed to addressing the issue of marine litter with sound solutions that achieve our goal of pursuing zero waste strategies,” said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux. “Our Operation Clean Sweep program is designed to prevent resin pellet loss and help keep pellets out of the marine environment, and continues to expand globally and is now being implemented by 14 countries around the world. The global plastics industry will continue to build on the commitments we’ve made in previous years to explore marine litter solutions.”

Plastics companies that haven’t yet taken the OCS pledge to eliminate the loss of plastic pellets in their factories and facilities can, and should, do so through the OCS website. Through OCS and other SPI-led programs, the plastics industry is working to keep plastic materials out of the marine environment, and close the loop on plastics, and, with collaboration, hard work and a little bit of luck, in another 30 years, there won’t be an International Coastal Cleanup, not because it’s not important, but because hopefully by then it won’t be necessary.

Friday, December 12th, 2014

SPI Supports Efforts to Clear Waterways of Pollution

FriendlyTurtle_WebSPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association advocates on behalf of programs designed to pursue zero waste. In response to the Five Gyres Institute’s recent release of a study that estimates the quantities of plastics in the world’s oceans (“Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea”), SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux released the following statement:

“Marine debris is a serious pollution problem that impacts our environment, the economy and our way of life. As responsible plastics manufacturing professionals, SPI and its members are firmly committed to addressing marine litter issues with sound solutions that achieve our goal of pursuing zero waste.

Operation Clean Sweep, an international product stewardship program launched by SPI in 1994 and currently administered in conjunction with the American Chemistry Council, is credited with reducing the concentration of pellets in the waterways by 80 percent. We are extremely proud of our success in this realm and plan to continue working with our peer organizations as well as our members to make greater strides in the future.

“Along with similar-minded organizations around the globe, in 2011 SPI signed The Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, a public commitment to address plastics in the marine environment. SPI is one of 60 associations representing 34 countries that have signed the declaration to promote policies and practices that rid our waterways of ugly, harmful marine debris.

“Plastics are renewable resources that are too valuable to lose as litter. Because of this, we’ve invested heavily in a broad range of recycling projects geared toward encouraging the public to reuse and recycle plastics products. Most recently, SPI became an inaugural member of the Recycling Partnership, a grant fund established by the Curbside Value Partnership (CVP) to support and transform public recycling performance. In this role, we advocate for expansion of programs in communities that have the capability to maximize recovery of plastic products including rigids, thermoforms and other non-bottle packaging materials.

“By supporting efforts to close the loop on all plastics materials so that none reaches the marine environment or the landfill, SPI and its partners are helping to combat marine debris and look forward to a day when plastics in the marine environment are a thing of the past.”

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Baltimore Mayor Correctly Vetoes City Ban on Plastic Bags

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake deserves all the praise she receives for vetoing the politically-motivated plastic bag ban the City Council recently passed with no debate or public discussion. Looming over this issue was a lingering question on the mind of Rawlings-Blake and the collective mind of the plastics industry: where have the voters been in this process?

The City Council certainly didn’t pay attention to them when they took an unpopular 5-cent bag fee bill and changed it at the eleventh hour, without debate or discussion, into an outright ban (members of the City Council who supported the ban said that the statewide midterm elections and a general anti-tax fervor led them to abandon the fee) and they certainly didn’t listen to local business owners who opposed a bag ban on the grounds that it would increase costs and amount to another tax that the City Council claimed it wanted to avoid.Recycled plastic bags image

In fact, according to Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), because paper bags cost more for grocers to supply, a ban on plastic bags would increase costs for consumers. For example, Daniels noted, for a large grocery store to switch to all paper it could cost an extra $60,000 to $90,000 per store. Those costs would be passed on to consumers, meaning a family of five would see an increase in their annual grocery expenses. If the Council understood the voters’ frustration with increased taxes, it had a funny way of showing it.

The plastic bag ban has become a cause celebre for politicians hoping to score political points and a symbolic victory that is only ever just that: symbolic. Plastic bags take up less than one percent of the municipal waste stream nationwide, and while no amount of litter is acceptable, the issue requires serious solutions and actual discussion. SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the APBA share the Baltimore City Council’s concerns about litter, but if they’re serious about having an impact, they should be focusing on litter and recycling education rather than instituting new taxes. Of course, the City Council was never interested in serious solutions and actual discussion; this was a political ploy meant to send the mayor a message.

Baltimore’s experience is becoming all too typical, as, in the search for that symbolic victory, politicians find loopholes to jam plastic bag bans and taxes through the legislature at the expense of openness and transparency. That’s because every time one of these proposals is presented to voters, they’ve rejected it. The only ways to enact a plastic bag ban or tax seem to be to make backroom deals, play political games and silence voter input, but that’s not how government is supposed to work in America. The voters get to have their say, and each time they’ve gotten the chance to, they’ve opposed it.

Ultimately all of these factors lead SPI and the APBA to the conclusion that Rawlings-Blake’s veto was the right thing to do. This was an underhanded effort by the Baltimore City Council to circumvent normal procedures of governance in order to enact a bill Baltimoreans didn’t want, and never got a chance to object to. The veto shows that if the City Council doesn’t value Baltimore residents’ right to debate and discussion, the Mayor does.

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Good News from SPI’s 2014 Global Business Trends Report

SPI released its 2014 Global Business Trends report this week, and revealed that, to put it mildly, last year was a good one for plastics.

Earth-NASA-2Worldwide demand for U.S. plastics industry goods hit record levels in 2013, growing by 6.5 percent from $251 billion in 2012, to $267 billion last year, which exceeds the $262.2 billion record set in 2006, before the recession was a twinkle in the global economy’s eye. “Surpassing previous consumption levels confirms that the U.S. plastics manufacturing industry is a major player in the world’s economy,” said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux, noting that “while U.S. exports of raw materials continue to show profitability thanks in part to increase in shale gas supplies, domestic demand holds the key to a wealth of job growth and economic benefits for firms that invest in the nation’s manufacturing renaissance.”

Exports also resumed their growth in 2013, the report noted, notching a 2.7 percent increase across most sectors (resins, plastic products and molds), excluding machinery. Companies in the machinery sector shouldn’t fret too much, however, as sales and exports of machinery typically expand every three years on account of NPE, the premier international plastics showcase put on by SPI, which will occur next in March 23-27, 2015 in Orlando, Fla.8_Bubble-Chandelier-Green-Souda-2

More than just the positive growth in domestic demand along with exports, the 2014 Global Business Trends report also suggests a solid basis for future growth throughout the entire industry, particularly in the U.S., where the manufacturing trade balance improved in this year’s report in part due to “reshoring,” whereby companies return previously “offshored” manufacturing operations to the U.S. Additionally, the U.S.’ flourishing domestic market required more production in order to adequately meet demand, and the ratio of industry exports to domestic shipments fell from 22.2 percent in 2012 to 21.5 percent in 2013, yet another sign of an improving U.S. economy.

Ultimately the U.S. is becoming more and more competitive in manufacturing because of four main characteristics: low wage inflation, a lower-valued dollar, high productivity and increasingly abundant energy resources. Taken together these elements suggest a bright future ahead for the industry and a great deal of opportunity, in the U.S. specifically.

For more insight into SPI’s 2014 Global Business Trends report and to learn what reshoring and increased domestic demand will mean for the U.S. plastics industry, join SPI President and CEO William Carteaux for a free webinar at 2 p.m. (EDT) next Wednesday, Dec. 10. Register today here.