Friday, April 22nd, 2016

SPI Helps Play Up Plastics at Family-Friendly STEM Festival

STEM Fest 1More than 350,000 students joined their families and teachers last weekend at the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. SPI teamed with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) to co-sponsor  a booth which featured a competition for small groups to clean up litter in record-time on an imaginary beach, with the help of the Rozalia Project, and  plastics-focused experiments led by Plastivan and UMass Lowell student volunteers. Each group that participated had the opportunity to walk away with an in-demand litter grabber, a plastic sample, which they made, and a photo taken by Hector the Collector, an underwater robot which can take photos and collect underwater litter.

The exhibit was, by all accounts, one of the most popular booths in the crowded exhibit hall, teaching elementary, middle and high school students about the importance of proper recycling and getting them excited about the science behind making plastics through a hands-on experiment. Parents and their kids waited for, at times, more than 90 minutes for a chance to participate in the recycling contest (to ultimately take home the free litter-grabber).

“Volunteers did a good job of teaching families about why materials are, or are not, recyclable,” said Katie Masterson, SPI senior program manager of industry affairs’ equipment council.

Say what you want about the younger generation, but there certainly hasn’t been a demographic in this country’s history that’s as environmentally engaged as they are. Festival visitors were pumped to be a part of the simulated beach cleanup and most were already well-versed on how to recycle and why it’s important.

STEM Fest 4“Our booth was about recycling and cleaning up our oceans, which is why I think it was so popular,” said Adrienne Remener, SPI database specialist, alluding to the fact that the kids who participated felt that they were doing their civic duty to help impact the environment around them.

By creating an experience that combined education, friendly competition and the in-demand giveaways which enabled kids to walk away with tools that can help them continue to make an impact well after they leave the booth, kids, parents and teachers walked away informed, entertained and empowered.

Our SPI staff volunteers loved watching children get excited about plastics.

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Why TSCA Reform Benefits Both the Public and the Plastics Industry

US CapitolThere’s much praise for both the House and Senate versions of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) legislation. Why? How does reforming a 40-year old piece of legislation impact an additive supplier in the value chain for an intricate piece in a larger finished product? Why should consumers be optimistic about the safety of future household products?

TSCA reform that is being negotiated by representatives from each chamber of Congress will update the 40-year-old regulatory framework to reflect today’s chemical manufacturing environment. In particular, we expect the negotiated version to overhaul the safety standards for chemicals entering the market, codify federal preemption language, and to protect confidential business information.

Here’s a look at what SPI and its members/stakeholders support:

Updated Safety Standards

TSCA will better define the safety standards that chemical manufacturers must meet so that consumers are more confident about the safety of chemicals in commerce. Costs and other non-risk factors should not be considered when evaluating the safety of a chemical. It is important TSCA consider potentially exposed subpopulations, such as children, to a chemical even under the intended conditions of use. Without these changes, it is difficult for businesses to demonstrate the safety of their products under the current, outdated regulatory system.

Federal Regulation to Preempt State Regulations

TSCA reform will reduce the need some states feel to step into the realm of chemical regulation. It’s more efficient for a company to comply with one federal regulation than it is to juggle 50 individual state regulations. The federal government recognizes this and is defining a threshold for states to implement their own regulatory standards.

Protect Confidential Business Information

Today’s TSCA reform outlines when information needs to be provided by private companies, but it also clarifies what is and is not protected. This confidence allows businesses to move forward with more innovative solutions to today’s chemical needs without worrying about disclosing trade secrets in the regulatory process.

U.S. manufacturers have made great strides in advancing chemical technology and use. These innovations make life as we know it possible. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment has not kept pace – but we expect this to change when negotiations conclude and a final bill is signed into law. We are confident that promising days lie ahead for those in the plastics industry impacted by TSCA.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

The FLiP Files: Shannon Stickler

Stickler, ShannonThe FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals that are active in SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40. For our second entry, we spoke to FLiP member Shannon Sticker of Printpack.

Where do you work and what’s your title?

Printpack, Market Development Manager

Tell us a little about what your company does.

Printpack is a major converter of flexible and specialty rigid packaging with a history of innovating for more than fifty years with manufacturing plants throughout the United States, Mexico and China.

How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

When I graduated from college I came across a job posting at Printpack. The sales position was located in a plant near where I am from. At the time I didn’t know much about the plastics industry. I started out in a training role and before I knew it a decade had passed.

Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of great mentors throughout the years. Being right out of college, it was very helpful to have someone who provided a sounding board as I established myself in the workforce. As my roles have evolved over the years, my mentors’ insights have continued to help me become a stronger leader.

Describe in one sentence what you do on an average day.

On an average day, I plan and organize our marketing and branding activities, help drive cross-divisional opportunities and collaboration, and communicate our initiatives and strategy internally.

What do you like most about working in the plastics industry?

The best part about working in plastics is being a part of an industry that is truly changing the world.

What’s one thing about your personal life that you feel has been changed by having a career in plastics?

I have a better appreciation for what it takes to produce the everyday things that we take for granted – cars, phones, packaged food.

Why do you think someone from your generation should consider a career in plastics?

The plastics industry is full of opportunity. There is always something to learn and you can be a part of an industry that is developing products for the future.

What’s one plastic product you couldn’t live without?

My iPhone. Although surely I could sustain life without it, I would prefer not to test it out.

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Seven Ways You Can Make a Difference on Earth Day

The plastics industry’s best asset is its people; always has been, always will be. The nearly one million plastics professionals in the U.S. aren’t just the fuel of a $427 billion industry. Together they comprise a community of like-minded individuals who believe in the power of plastics to make the world a better, safer, greener place.

That’s why throughout the month of April, SPI is asking every plastics professional to pledge one act of green, using the hashtag #SPIEarthDay, to reduce their environmental impact this Earth Day, April 22, 2016 (4/22/2016). Here are seven small, individual acts of green that can collectively add up to big environmental changes:

Male hand putting plastic bottle in recycling bin1. Reusing and recycling: These are as relevant and important now as they ever have been. Whether it’s taking the bags back to the grocery store or taking your old electronics to a facility where they can have a new life, recycling and reusing plastic materials adds to their value and reduces their overall environmental footprint.

2. Waste avoidance: Composting isn’t just for hipsters and Portland residents anymore. Striving for zero food waste is a lot easier than you’d think, and that’s just the beginning. Paperless banking, double-sided printing and so many other simple steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate excess paper, plastic or any other material for that matter. For plastics professionals specifically, there’s also the Operation Clean Sweep guidelines that, when implemented properly, can eliminate pellet loss in your facilities, keeping those materials out of waterways, and in your machines and products where they belong.

3. Purchasing: The plastics industry promotes the use of recycled plastic content in products as a way to extend the lifecycle of the material. What better way to support and promote the use of recycled plastic than by buying products that use it in your own day-to-day purchasing decisions.

Showerhead4. Water: If you’re looking for a weekend project, try installing a low flow shower head, toilet or faucet, or planting some plants that require less water, installing rain barrels or investing in some drought resistant landscaping. If you’re not looking for a weekend project, do any of the above, and watch your water bills decline as you strike a blow for smarter management of humanity’s most valuable resource.

5. Energy Conservation: Even something as simple as washing your clothes with cold water, or unplugging your phone charger while it’s not in use, can, collectively, save a lot of energy, reduce your own carbon footprint and make a real difference.

BlogPhoto6_Transportation6. Transportation: So much of each individual’s environmental impact is comprised of the way one gets from one place to another. Cutting out one car trip, riding a bike or using public transportation are easy ways to decrease that impact without much hassle.

7. Team Up: Again, the plastics industry isn’t just an industry, but a community of people who believe in the unlimited potential of these materials to change lives, and to change the world. Consider teaming up with others this Earth Day, whether it’s with your fellow plastics professionals, your friends, your family, your neighbors or whoever, to augment the impact of your actions and spread the word that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility.

BlogPhoto7_Team

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Bioplastics 101

Bioplastics are found in our daily lives, and people don’t know it. They drink from biobased plastic bottles or drive in cars with seats and tubing that come from biobased sources. They go to parties and eat with compostable plates and forks. At the hospital, bioplastics are found in sutures and implants.

biobased benefitsThe histories of plastics and bioplastics have always been closely linked. The first man-made plastic – celluloid – was created to replace ivory in billiard balls, and went on to imitate ivory in many other applications, including combs and piano keys. Poly(lactic acid), one of the most common biodegradable bioplastics, was commercialized in the 1950s and used for medical applications until a breakthrough in manufacturing enabled it to become a large-scale commodity plastic in the mid-1990s.

Biobased and Biodegradable

Bioplastics are plastics that are 1) biobased, meaning they come from a renewable resource, 2) biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally, or 3) are both biobased and biodegradable. There are durable bioplastics made entirely from sugar cane, and some biodegradable plastics that are derived from nonrenewable resources.

Biobased means that a percentage of the carbon found in the plastic comes from a renewable resource. Resources used to make biobased bioplastics are called feedstocks, and include corn, sugar cane, castor beans, saw dust and even algae. Some have raised concerns that making plastics from plants means that this process reduces the amount of food available, but less than .01% of the land used for growing is used to make bioplastics. That’s like saying for every 12.5 ears of corn grown, one kernel is used to produce bioplastics.

golden wheat field and sunny dayBiodegradable means that bioplastics break down completely through a natural process within a short period of time into elements found in nature. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, and larger creatures like earthworms, eat the plastics for food, breaking them down for energy and converting them into carbon dioxide, methane and water.

Biodegradation, however, can vary based on a lot of factors and is therefore not as helpful a term for consumers. It’s more important for them to know how to properly dispose of a biodegradable object. That is why we use terms such as “home compostable” or “industrially compostable” to help give consumers the information they need to properly dispose of certain bioplastics. Home and industrial composting differ because home systems use simple methods, such as a compost pile, with much greater variability and lower temperatures than industrial composting.

Bioplastics and Degradable Additives

Oftentimes there is confusion between bioplastics and plastics to which a degradable additive has been added. Both SPI and others have concerns about products that claim to be able to convert traditional durable plastics into biodegradable ones, and consumers should be wary of these products as well.

Bioplastics and Recycling

Bioplastics can be recyclable—even those that are biodegradable! Composting is a complement to recycling, and provides an alternate end-of-life option for plastics that cannot be recycled due to food waste contamination.