Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

The FLiP Files: Ghislaine (Gigi) Bailey, Ph.D.

gigibaileyThe 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 next FLiP File, we spoke to Ghislaine (Gigi) Bailey, Ph.D., Senior Specialist, Product Regulations at NOVA Chemicals Corporation

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

I work at NOVA Chemicals as a member of our product integrity regulatory compliance team.

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

NOVA Chemicals is a multibillion-dollar company that produces plastics and chemicals, including resins for food packaging, automotive applications, caps and closures and many other everyday items.

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

It was a chance encounter at a party. I am an organic chemist and studied polymers for my doctoral thesis. When my husband and I moved to Calgary in Alberta, Canada I knew virtually no one but met someone at a party who introduced me to NOVA Chemicals. I’ve had roles in R&D, product development and new business development, all of which led to my current role in product integrity.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you?

I have been very fortunate to have some key people help and mentor me, both unofficially and officially. Their advice and guidance has helped me to understand the industry and how NOVA Chemicals, the business, is run, which in turn has impacted how I approached my career at NOVA Chemicals.

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

On a typical day I work on a broad range of tasks: respond to customer regulatory requests, track imports, monitor and respond to developing global regulations and provide our R&D teams with regulatory support for the latest technology or products they have developed.

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

That it is both flexible and multi-layered.

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

I have a much greater appreciation for the broad and varied uses of plastics, and how integral they are to our quality of life.

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

I am fortunate to live in a very “green” city, which means that I am often educating those around me on the value of plastics. The ramifications of abandoning plastics have generally not been carefully thought out, nor have the alternatives, which are not necessarily “greener.” The plastics industry needs to educate the general population on how environmentally friendly plastics can be and stress responsible end-of-life disposal. We hear a lot of news about the negatives of plastics and not enough about the positive impacts that plastics have on our lives, such as food preservation, food transportation, promoting good hygiene, etc. The plastics industry needs to highlight all the great and positive aspects of plastics.

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

A career in plastics is an excellent choice. I would take that even further and encourage people to consider a career in regulatory compliance for the plastics industry. Without regulatory approval, plastic products cannot be sold. Given the speed at which governments are adopting and updating laws pertaining to transportation, manufacture, importation, exportation, food contact, etc., regulatory expertise within plastics companies is essential. In addition, there is always something new to learn, and just like the products we cover, this career is extremely flexible. It is satisfying to know that we are doing our part to keep plastics safe and contributing to an improved quality of life for those around us.

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

Plastic wrap and freezer bags. With two young kids, I don’t know how I would function without them.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Hear about the Benefits of Pursuing Zero Net Waste from SPI’s First-Ever Zero Net Waste-Designated Company

ZNWLogoWhen The Minco Group and its All Service Plastic Molding (ASPM) subsidiary set out to achieve Zero Net Waste using SPI’s program, it couldn’t have known how it would impact its operations, or its bottom line. But Minco Program Manager Andy Brewer, with the support of Vice President Dan Norris, organized and led a company Green Team which implemented the program and started monitoring their progress.

The numbers don’t lie.

Since putting the Zero Net Waste program’s tools and resources to use in their facility, ASPM has:

  • Diverted 88 percent of their total manufacturing waste away from the landfill.
  • Organized a 24-hour sort of ASPM waste.
  • Categorized their waste materials into 26 categories.
  • Decreased landfill-bound waste weights by 46 percent.
  • Projected a revenue increase of approximately $20,000 for 2017, based on their enhanced recycling efforts.

These aren’t the only benefits the company recognized by pursuing Zero Net Waste. SPI also named The Minco Group the first company to ever achieve its Zero Net Waste designation, which announces to the industry, and to the world at large, that the company has successfully taken steps to eliminate waste in plastics manufacturing in its facilities.

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Minco’s Andy Brewer

The first steps, according to Brewer, were getting involved, getting buy-in, and building a team. “I’ve been working with [SPI’s Senior Director of Recycling & Diversion] Kim Holmes’ Recycling Committee and knew that my company was capable of doing our part to make the industry more sustainable,” said Brewer. “I was able to get buy-in from my colleagues by organizing a 24-hour sort in which they learned about all of the many recyclable materials we send to the landfill, in error, every day. From there, our Green Team, which manages our recycling efforts, was born.”

Brewer will lead an upcoming webinar to discuss the other benefits beyond projected revenue increases that he and his company have experience since they set about eliminating waste from their facilities. Register here and learn how your company can engage its employees and help the environment all while enhancing its bottom line through the Zero Net Waste program.

Friday, August 19th, 2016

A New Study May Make Conversations about Plastics Easier

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Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division

A guest post by Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division.

Has this happened to you? You’re at a dinner party or family gathering or neighborhood get-together. Someone asks you what you do. A conversation about plastics ensues. And you struggle to find a really simple way to explain plastics’ many benefits and contributions to sustainability.

I’m guessing we’ve all been there.  And the answer just got easier to explain.

New study

A new study by the environmental consulting firm Trucost uses “natural capital accounting” methods that measure and value environmental impacts, such as consumption of water and emissions to air, land, and water. The authors describe it as the largest natural capital cost study ever conducted for the plastics manufacturing sector.

The results?  “Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs, and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement,” finds that the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer goods and packaging is nearly four times less than if plastics were replaced with alternative materials.

Trucost found that replacing plastics with alternatives would increase environmental costs associated with consumer goods from $139 billion to $533 billion annually.

Why is that? Predominantly because strong, lightweight plastics help us do more with less material, which provides environmental benefits throughout the lifecycle of plastic products and packaging. While the environmental costs of alternative materials can be slightly lower per ton of production, they are greater in aggregate due to the much larger quantities of material needed to fulfill the same purposes as plastics.

Think about it. Every day, strong, lightweight plastics allow us to ship more product with less packaging, enable our vehicles to travel further on a gallon of gas, and extend the shelf-life of healthful foods and beverages. And all of these things help reduce energy use, carbon emissions, and waste.

Why do this study?

This new study follows an earlier report called “Valuing Plastics (2014)” that Trucost conducted for the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP). “Valuing Plastics” was Trucost’s first examination of environmental cost of using plastics. While clearly an important study, it begged the key question: compared to what? After all, consumer goods need to be made out of something.

So ACC’s Plastics Division commissioned Trucost to compare the environmental costs of using plastics to alternative materials, as well as to identify opportunities to help plastics makers lower the environmental costs of using plastics. The expanded study also broadened the scope of the earlier work to include use and transportation, thus providing a more complete picture of the full life cycle of products and packaging.

We see “Plastics and Sustainability” as a contribution to the burgeoning and vital global discussion on sustainability. Like any single study, it doesn’t “prove” that plastics are always better for the environment than alternatives. But it is an important study based on a rigorous and transparent methodology. And it provides a fuller picture of the environmental benefits of using plastics.

“Plastics and Sustainability” provides the plastics value chain with important information on plastics and sustainability so that we all can make better decisions. The entire plastics value chain is engaged in discussions with policymakers, brand owners, retailers, recyclers – and consumers – about how to be good corporate citizens and contribute to sustainability. A better understanding of the life cycle of materials will better inform these discussions and should lead all of us to more sustainable materials management decisions. This study’s findings also will help inform us how to further reduce the environmental cost of plastics.

In other words, making smart choices about what we produce and how we produce it will benefit people and the planet.

New perspective

So in light of this new study, next time you or I struggle for the right words, perhaps let’s try this:

“Did you know that replacing plastics with alternatives would actually increase environmental costs by nearly four times?”

Let me know how it goes.

You can find more information about the Trucost study and some interesting visualizations of the findings here.

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

How Will the Brexit Impact the U.S. Plastics Industry?

Brexit concept jigsaw puzzleBy Michael Taylor, Vice President, International Affairs and Trade, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association

The vote by 52 percent of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union—the so-called British exit (Brexit)—has sent shockwaves across global financial markets and ushered in a period of uncertainty for manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic. The vote could further undermine growth within Europe and potentially around the globe. Given the size of the U.S. economic relationship with Europe, the U.K. decision may have significant ramifications for the American plastics industry.

The U.S. commercial relationship with the U.K. and EU combined is the U.S.’ largest in the world, representing about 40 percent of the global economy. Trade of U.S.–EU manufactured goods reached $836 billion in 2015, and cross-border investment equaled more than $5 trillion. Many U.S. companies with EU operations have headquarters in London, and about 17 percent of U.S.-manufactured exports to the EU are destined for the U.K.

The U.K. is the 9th largest export market for the U.S. plastics industry representing more than $1.3 billion dollars in goods in 2015, and our 8th largest import market with more than $249 million dollars in goods in 2015. While the day-to-day operations of businesses in the United Kingdom, European Union or the United States may not be directly impacted by the Brexit immediately, all businesses engaged in the transatlantic market should prepare for the changes that are inevitably coming.

It’s expected that what the Brexit means for manufacturers in the United States and their partners in Europe won’t be fully known for years. Soon the United Kingdom will begin negotiations with the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union to set the terms of its withdrawal, a negotiation which some expect may take two years or more. Until the U.K. officially withdraws from the EU, it should be treated as an EU member state in trade for purposes of tariffs and other technical matters. Eventually, however, our trading relationship with the UK will experience increased costs and red tape after they have completely withdrawn from the EU. For U.K. manufacturers exporting into the EU, EU standards and regulations are expected to continue to apply for those goods to be eligible for sale, but much as they would normally apply to U.S. exports, rather than to exports from EU member companies.

Big Ben and Union Jack flag in England

Regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a major trade treaty currently being negotiated, it is clear that the Brexit vote will be a drag on the progress of the deliberations. Prior to the vote, it was apparent that the differences separating the United States and EU in the TTIP talks were larger than the areas of shared objectives and perspectives. With the U.K. and EU now preparing to enter into a multi-year withdrawal negotiation, there are serious questions as to whether the TTIP talks can result in a truly meaningful and comprehensive agreement or even any deal at all. In addition, the loss of the UK voice within the EU will likely make it even more difficult for a deal to be struck. On a positive note, there is the possibility of a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement, but this opportunity would still be years away at this point, and only be a fraction of the size of an ideal TTIP agreement with the entire EU.

All this said, although it is a significant event with notable economic consequences, the Brexit vote is unlikely to usher in a recession. It is very clear that all of the key players stand ready to intervene in the financial markets vigorously to buoy their economies as required. Specifically, in the U.S., the Federal Reserve will likely cut interest rates as opposed to raising them, counterbalancing any negative investment consequences the Brexit might have in the near-term for U.S. stakeholders.

But the causal relationship between political and economic uncertainty and negative market and trade consequences is well established. The Brexit will most likely have impacts akin to past Eurozone crises, at least in the short term. It will shake financial markets and consumer confidence, cause a majority of business decision-makers to hedge and serve as an unwelcome drag on economic growth and demand.

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Plastics Industry Welcomes First Bipartisan TSCA Update in 40 Years

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SPI President and CEO William Carteaux

Earlier this week the Senate approved a much-needed update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The bill is now headed to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature. Here’s what SPI President and CEO William Carteaux, had to say about the first substantive update to TSCA in four decades:

“The U.S. plastics industry and its partners have worked tirelessly with multiple Congresses and administrations to make our nation’s outdated chemical regulatory infrastructure stronger and more responsive to the needs of today’s consumers and companies.

Today those efforts have paid off in the form of bipartisan legislation marking the first substantive update to the Toxic Substances Control Act in four decades.

CongressSunriseViewThis consensus-based bill is the product of thoughtful discussions by House and Senate negotiators.  It gives consumers the confidence in the products they depend upon each day, while giving companies a more predictable regulatory system that’s based on science rather than rhetoric.  The plastics industry also applauds lawmakers for ensuring that the new bill provides for the preservation of confidential business information, ensuring that the growth this bill is certain to unlock won’t be jeopardized.

This is a great day for the U.S. plastics industry and its nearly one million workers and their families. We look forward to continuing to grow the American economy by manufacturing the safest, strongest and most technologically advanced products and materials.”