Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Plastic Packaging and the Ability to Feed People

FoodPackaging_StockPhotoOne of the simplest reasons packaging is poised to become a nearly $1 trillion industry in the next decade is because it contains, protects and preserves food and water. With as much food and water as we consume, the prevalence of food waste, and packaging’s role in eliminating it, was a prominent theme at this year’s Flexible Film & Bag Conference, which wrapped up in Houston, Texas last week.

The plastic films and flexible plastic packaging that covers meat, poultry, cheese, vegetables and other edible goods prolong the life of the products they contain by shielding them from bacteria, heat, cold and moisture, among other things. Attendees representing the companies that manufacture some of these items discussed ways to make their products more efficient and effective in combating lost and wasted food, a global issue that’s reached critical levels in environmental, economic and humanitarian terms.

Chopin at the 2016 Flexible Film & Bag Conference

Chopin at the 2016 Flexible Film & Bag Conference

“Food waste is an incredible problem,” said presenter Lamy Chopin of Dow Chemical. “If you consider the ripple effect of losing valuable food, the farmers that have invested in the land…any of that product that doesn’t get consumed has a significant greenhouse footprint.” The financial impact of food waste, according to Chopin, is up to $300 billion lost annually.

Environmentally, the impact of food waste is at least ten times larger than the environmental impact of packaging, and part of what makes that the case is plastic’s unique material and manufacturing properties. “One of the reasons why plastics are winning in the space of packaging in particular is they’re incredibly efficient,” Chopin noted. “They win out in terms of energy use and impact” when compared to other packaging materials, he added.

The epidemic of food waste and the ramifications it has for society are a huge priority for agencies, NGOs and governments around the globe. Plastic materials, particularly plastic films, will have an important role to play in combating these issues, and doing so as sustainably and efficiently as possible.

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Keeping America Beautiful with #SPIEarthDay

recyclingEach Earth Day, we celebrate preserving our planet and put in some extra effort to clean up our communities. Now more than ever, those within the plastics industry understand the commitment to sustainable practices and programs that will help to protect the world we live in for generations to come.

Here at SPI, we celebrated Earth Day for the entire month of April, coinciding with our first-ever Re|focus Summit & Expo which included prominent speakers from the plastics, recycling, food, beverage and consumer products industries who gathered to take their environmental goals from aspirational to operational. We also launched an Earth Day Pledge Challenge, where we encouraged members of the plastics industry to pledge to perform at least one act of green, or actions that reduce our environmental footprint.

Participants representing regions ranging from North America to the Middle East, and the diversity of plastics professionals, committed to implementing small, yet impactful acts of green in their daily lives Survey participants pledged acts of green which included committing to recycling more, participating in local clean-ups, reducing food waste and much more.

KAB logoRewarding our industry’s commitment, SPI agreed to randomly select an individual who completed the survey, and also shared their act of green commitments using the hashtag #SPIEarthDay, to donate $1,500 to a local Keep America Beautiful (KAB) affiliate of his or her choice. Sandeep Kulkarni, senior principal scientist at PepsiCo Global R&D, was randomly selected among the participants. Sandeep has will select a local KAB affiliate as his choice to receive SPI’s donation of $1,500.

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

The FLiP Files: Beth W. Trenor

The 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 third entry, we spoke to FLiP member Beth W. Trenor of Milliken & Company.

-Where do you work and what’s your title?Beth Trenor

Milliken & Company, Regulatory Affairs Specialist

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

Milliken & Company is historically known for textiles, but we have several other divisions including floor covering, performance fabrics and specialty chemicals. I work in the Plastic Additives business within the Chemical Division which is focused on ingredients for polymers that enhance physical and aesthetic properties of plastic parts.

-How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

I started my career as a research & development lab technician, primarily doing synthesis and analysis of new products for use in plastics. I transferred to the regulatory department three years ago and now focus on compliance of newly invented additives for plastics. There are lots of food contact applications and global chemical regulations, and my work touches almost every part of the supply chain.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

Honestly, I couldn’t name just one person. Everyone I’ve interacted with has been a mentor to me in some way. I learn something new from every person I meet, and that’s why organizations like SPI are so important! There’s always someone who has worked in your position and has some helpful advice or hints, so it’s important to listen and ask questions of those who have “been there”.

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

Ensure our products can be sold legally and ethically throughout the world!

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

Variety is the spice of life. There are so many facets to the plastics industry, it never reaches the point of feeling “routine” for me.

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

When shopping or dining, I always like to check the bottom of plastic cups and containers to see what they’re made of and if our additives are used. It’s fun to see the final product of something I helped put on a shelf!

-What are the major challenges you think are facing the plastics industry today? How do you think the industry can overcome them?

The global regulatory landscape is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to comply with, especially in cases where maintaining confidential business information comes into play. I think compliance challenges can be overcome with increased communication and understanding of these challenges throughout the supply chain. Companies can work together to reach a solution, and I can see SPI playing a big role in helping achieve this!

The other big challenge I see is public perception of “plastics” and “dangerous chemicals in plastics”. Again, I think SPI and those of us in the industry can work together and help project a better message that is backed by science!

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

Like I said above, it’s the variety – there are SO many different career paths and roles that you can take within the plastics industry.

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

Currently: baby bottles and sippy cups – my son turned one year old this month, and we have these all over the house!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Brand Owners, Sustainability Leaders Launch Initiatives at First-Ever Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo

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SPI’s first-ever Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo wrapped up in Orlando last week. The two-day program featured executive-level forums, diverse educational sessions, dozens of cutting-edge vendors in the Expo Hall and a fair share of big announcements from some of the world’s most recognizable names in consumer products:

  • Keynote speaker Kelly Semrau, S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, communication and sustainability, announced her company’s latest initiative to help build the infrastructure to eventually make Ziploc bags widely recyclable via curbside recycling programs.

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  • Walmart’s Ashley Hall noted that the world’s largest private employer will be using the How2Recycle label on its private label products.
  • Consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson reiterated its commitment to creating sustainable products and educating consumers about the importance of recycling bathroom goods through the company’s Care to Recycle online toolkit, which shows families, what, how and where to recycle.

SPI also released its latest Plastics Market Watch report, Automotive Recycling: Devalued is now Revalued.

In addition to the announcements and educational sessions, Re|focus boasted a 10,000 net square foot exhibit hall, a core focus of the conference where attendees learned about various products that could help their companies achieve their sustainability goals. They could also see demonstrations of various types of recycling equipment, like this nifty shredder.

Shredder from Jacob Barron on Vimeo.

The Exhibit Hall also gave visitors the opportunity to learn more about how a plastic product can be recycled and converted into a completely different product for consumers. The Life Cycle Application center featured a number of different products that start out seemingly having little to no value, but, after reclamation and recycling, go on to become a valuable high-end feedstock for manufacturing. The Center was produced by SPI in partnership with Wellman.

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“We were so impressed by the turnout and candid conversation about working together collaboratively to reduce waste and promote recycling, with stakeholders and industry influencers representing various parts of the supply chain,” said Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and diversion at SPI. “Re|focus had a successful inaugural summit and next year, we will return with an equally robust program to continue to drive conversation on how we all play a role in collectively committing to sustainable practices. We look forward to hosting in 2017.”

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.