Friday, July 31st, 2015

Getting Real about Marine Debris

Coral reef and the IslandAn environmental problem of the seriousness and enormity of marine debris can easily overwhelm companies and individuals into inaction. “I’m just a small manufacturer,” you can hear a business owner saying to themselves. “There’s very little I can do to make a difference.” It can be easy to slip into this mentality, but the truth is that the small steps we all take add up to a much bigger, positive effect. This is true about all large-scale issues, including marine debris.

Some of these steps can be taken within the gates of our manufacturing facilities, and some can be directed at consumer behavior. The former is often the simplest, but you might be wondering, “how can I impact the world outside of my facility?” To answer this question, SPI worked with other industry partners to create the proven and effective program known as Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), a program aimed at mitigating pellet loss from the manufacturing environment. Pellets in the ocean are a real and documented problem, but since the implementation of OCS, scientists have actually measured a decline in the presence of these pellets. No single company could have accomplished this. Rather, this decline is a perfect example of how everyone’s small efforts can add up to a larger solution. OCS is a first step that all plastics-handling companies can take in the right direction, before graduating to other collaborative efforts that companies and associations like SPI can take that enable the cause of eliminating marine debris to leap forward.OCS logo

Once companies take action within their facilities, they can focus on other additional opportunities to have an impact on marine debris issues. These come in two areas: supporting further recovery of plastics at end-of-life to help mitigate litter, and actually being part of beach cleanup efforts. “SPI is proud to have contributed” to the cause of fighting marine debris, said SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux in a statement earlier this year that highlighted SPI’s efforts, all of which are directly supported by its membership. “But we also support the cause of eliminating marine debris by supporting recycling and educating the public about the value of plastic materials. SPI works tirelessly to create new markets for recycled plastic materials, and to spur innovation that makes recycling plastic products easier and more widespread for all consumers and for all types of plastics, from polystyrene foams to rigid packaging to plastic bags and everything in between.”

In short, an industry committing itself to the kind of environmental stewardship exemplified by OCS and the plastics industry’s other efforts to erase marine debris is all well and good, but failing to engage the consumer in these efforts only limits the possibilities for what can be achieved. The more strongly the industry can enlist consumers in its efforts, the faster the results will arrive, the more visible they’ll be and the longer they’ll last.

So, while companies shouldn’t be discouraged out of acting by the severity of marine debris, it’s safe to say that working to combat it can be a complex task. To demystify the problem and give companies the tools they need to join the fight against marine debris, SPI will host a webinar August 6 at 1 p.m. EST titled “Marine Debris: Where We Stand, and What We Can Do.” As the title suggests, the program will feature both the latest figures on marine debris as well as the numerous opportunities the industry currently has to get involved in international coastal cleanup efforts. It will also give companies that might not think OCS could apply to them (i.e. recyclers) a background on how they can start implementing these important rules to prevent the loss of plastic materials at all facilities, not just plastics manufacturing or processing plants.FriendlyTurtle_Web

“SPI will continue to work and collaborate with other industry organizations to facilitate programs that increase recycling and eliminate the loss of plastic pellets and materials that end up in our oceans and waterways,” Carteaux said. “By working together, we can drive the meaningful recovery of plastics products that will stop marine debris at its source.” We hope you’ll join us and your peers to tackle one of our generation’s greatest environmental challenges while moving your industry, and your company forward at the same time.

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Why Your Company Should Take a Fresh Look at Bioplastics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized SPI’s Bioplastics Division (BPD) recently for its contributions to a new report detailing the state of the American bioeconomy. For bioplastics specifically, the report indicates that bioplastic bottles and packaging contributed 4,000 jobs and $410 million to the U.S. economy in 2013, and that investments in the sector yield outsized results elsewhere in the supply chain. For example, every dollar generated by the bioplastics sector generates an additional $3.64 elsewhere in the supply chain, while every job created within bioplastics results in another 3.25 jobs in adjacent sectors.

SPI_BPD_Logo_AltThe report is full of good news for the bioeconomy generally, and for bioplastics specifically, but it’s worth noting that $410 million accounts for about a tenth of a percent of the entire $380-billion U.S. plastics industry. There’s an enormous opportunity for companies that haven’t explored the sector recently to grow their business using these materials, if all they did was give bioplastics a second look. “Bioplastics is in need of an infusion, not so much of capital, but of market awareness,” said BPD Chairman Keith Edwards of BASF. “The investment has been made. There’s a lot of production capacity and there are materials available, they’re working technically and in most cases they’re working commercially. What we still lack is a lot of market understanding of the benefits and the uses of bioplastics.”

Edwards noted that misconceptions about availability, technical performance and commercial viability continue to haunt bioplastics, but that none of these factors are issues for the sector anymore. “In the past you could use these materials but you could only convert like a tenth of what you had, and now you can convert everything,” he noted. “There’s definitely still a perception that they’re either not available or technically, from a material property standpoint, they can’t do what you want them to do, but the third thing is that commercially people think they’re all too expensive which, in a lot of cases, they’re not, at least not to the same extent they used to be.”

The issue is that many companies probably already performed their own assessment on bioplastic materials within the last ten years, which, in the scheme of long-term investments in production changes, might as well have been yesterday. “A lot of companies did their big study five years ago and think ‘well I know everything I need to know about bioplastics, thank you,’” Edwards noted. “Trying to get them now to stop and do that assessment again, since they just did it, is hard because people are so busy, companies are busy and they’re chasing new business.”

But Edwards also notes that an investment in bioplastics doesn’t have to just be for show; it can also present a company with real strategic business advantages. “What we’re trying to convince the market of is ‘hey there’s new business to chase that no one else is chasing if you will employ some of these bioplastic technologies,’” he said, “’because now you can make claims that they can’t make, and you can do things that they can’t do.’”

These awareness challenges and business opportunities aren’t unique to bioplastics, and a corollary can even be found elsewhere in the broader plastics industry. “To me it’s the same as the recycling angle,” Edwards said. “What was true of recycled materials in the past is not necessarily true today, and the recycling industry is telling companies to come back and look, because these things are much better than they used to be. It’s the same thing with bioplastics.”

All of this is to suggest that innovation and growth in materials science, performance and commercial viability are happening so quickly now that a company that waits to reassess every half-decade or so could very well be missing out on a huge opportunity, especially as these factors pertain to bioplastics. These materials can do much more than the market is giving them credit for, and once companies begin to come to terms with this fact, the USDA can expect that the next time it measures the size and impact of the bioplastics industry, it’ll account for more than a tenth of the entire U.S. plastics industry. “If your company looked at bioplastics five years ago and the materials didn’t have the right heat resistance or they cost three times as much or they just couldn’t be used, you need to come back and look,” Edwards said. “What was true five years ago, isn’t true today.”

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Proper Use of Plastics in the Microwave is Safe

By Kyra Mumbauer, SPI Senior Director of Global Regulatory Affairs

In recent weeks, mainstream media outlets have carried articles suggesting that microwaving plastics could be dangerous. As the leading association in plastics manufacturing, it is incumbent upon us to help clarify information about using plastic food containers or wraps in microwaves.

 Kyra Mumbauer

Kyra Mumbauer

The key point is that plastic wraps and containers are not dangerous to use in the microwave if they are used in accordance with the directions on their packaging or the container itself.  The public should be sure to use any plastics for their intended purpose and in accordance with directions. Many plastic wraps, packages and containers are specially designed to withstand microwave temperatures. Be sure yours is one of them by checking the item or its label.

Recent articles have also directed the public to check the Resin Identification Codes on plastic containers and to avoid microwaving containers labeled 3, 6 and 7.  Consumers must be aware that these codes have no relationship to the safety of a plastic food contact product for its intended use. Food containers and packaging materials are manufactured using many different plastics, including Codes 1-7, and all must comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) extensive regulations designed to protect public health and the environment.

Before entering the market for consumer use, the components of products that come in contact with food must be submitted for review by the FDA. The FDA has assigned an entire office, the Division of Food Contact Notifications, which employs approximately 35 chemists, toxicologists, and other scientific staff, for the purpose of evaluating the safety and environmental impact of chemicals used to produce packaging and other products that may contact food.

microwavePlastics and additives are permitted only after the FDA reviews the scientific data and finds that they are safe for their intended use, such as in microwavable plastic trays.  FDA’s review includes an assessment of the potential for substances to migrate into the food under the specific condition(s) of use, in this case at high temperatures present in microwave cooking applications.  FDA then calculates the estimated dietary exposure to any substances that could migrate, reviews all toxicological data that is available on the substances that may migrate and determines whether that data supports the safety of the potential exposure.  The higher the potential exposure to a material, the more toxicity data is needed to support the safety of that exposure.  FDA’s comprehensive regulatory scheme ensures the safety of food contact products, including microwavable plastics, allowing FDA to focus its resources on other issues, such as foodborne illness.

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

RGIII Should Promote Recycling Among Redskins’ Fans and Players

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association is pleased that Robert Griffin III is taking an active interest in the health of our oceans. As the nation’s third largest manufacturing industry, we also care about the oceans and consistently take part in programs designed to prevent the loss of our raw materials and end-user products to the waterways. But, we are deeply concerned that Mr. Griffin is encouraging consumers and Redskins’ fans to stop using plastic bottles.RG3

Plastic bottles are widely recycled across the U.S., and their recycling rates continue to grow. Indeed, every ton of plastic bottles recycled saves about 3.8 barrels of oil?

After they are recycled, bottles and containers become valuable feedstock used to produce a variety of new products – from lumber for outdoor decking to carpeting, fleece jackets and t-shirts. In fact, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team just won the World Cup wearing Nike jerseys made with recycled plastic bottles.

Rather than encouraging fans to stop using plastic bottles, SPI suggests that Mr. Griffin encourage fans and other consumers to recycle plastic bottles and other appropriate products. The staff at SPI: The Plastic Industry Trade Association cordially invites Mr. Griffin and any other Redskins players to join us in touring a plastics recycling facility so that Washington’s team can learn more about recycling plastic bottles and similar materials. And one last note, to Mr. Griffin, if you take a close look at your football helmet and some of the gear used in your profession, you’ll gain a better understanding about the role plastics play in keeping you safe and hydrated on the field.

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Don’t Blame the Big Blue Bin

The Washington Post’s Defeatist Attitude Toward Recycling Harms Industry

By Kim Holmes, SPI’s Senior Director of Recycling and Diversion

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association wants to clarify several points concerning recycling that were misrepresented in Aaron C. Davis’ June 20, 2015 article, “American Recycling is Stalling, and the Big Blue Bin is One Reason Why.”Blue Bin

Davis’ article states that, “recycling in recent years has become a money sucking enterprise,” and suggests that recycling cannot be done profitably.  It is true that some Material Recovery Facilities – or MRFs – are experiencing a confluence of factors that are creating an economically challenging business environment.

But, not all MRFs are operating in the red.  During difficult times, MRFs need to be agile, and sometimes willing to invest in equipment that will produce better quality bales of materials in more efficient ways. Unfortunately, many MRFs continue to use outdated equipment and would operate more efficiently if they invested in state-of-the-art machinery similar to what is more widely used in Europe and in some areas of the U.S. It is also important to note that Waste Management’s experience, as stated by Davis, is not representative of what is occurring at every MRF in America.

As a trade association representing the plastics industry, we work with our members to promote the benefits of recycled content to drive sustainability across the plastics manufacturing industry. In our industry, a reduction in the price of new plastics has at times narrowed the cost savings that might be found by using recycled plastics – but, that’s temporary. Indeed, there are key drivers that help sustain demand for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics, even when they don’t present cost savings.  Those include: publically stated corporate commitments to use PCR, use of recycled content as a market differentiator, and ecolabels that encourage, and in some cases, require use of recycled content for certain products.

And while it is true that some consumers unintentionally contaminate their blue bins by depositing inappropriate items, the use of blue bins results in a significant increase in desirable recyclable commodities.  The systematic increase in recyclables that come with “the big blue bin” is why we, along with many others, have invested in programs like the Recycling Partnership.  The Recycling Partnership helps communities transition to the blue bins to increase access to recycling, and that effort is coupled with proper consumer education so an increase in contamination can be mitigated. The claim made in the article that, “Consumers have indeed been filling the bigger bins, but often with as much garbage as recyclable material,” is a false generalization. Statements like this are misleading, and frankly dissuade people for participating in recycling.

Finally, we have deep concerns about the suggestion that government intervention may be necessary to “encourage investment and ensure that profit remain a public benefit.”  Market-based solutions that work with the public sector, such as the Recycling Partnership and the Closed Loop Fund, are growing and generating positive results.  We need to support these and other privately funded efforts rather than looking to the government for solutions. Government intervention can create systems that inadvertently pick winners and losers, meaning some otherwise profitable recyclers can be put out of business when the market is disrupted.  It’s not uncommon for government intervention to create unintended, and many times, unwanted externalities.