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.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Legislative Recap: A Big Two Weeks for Plastics on Capitol Hill

The last two weeks have seen big developments on Capitol Hill, particularly for the $380-billion U.S. plastics industry. Below is a quick recap of the legislative shifts and successes that have been on SPI’s radar for the last two weeks:

-TSCA Reform Approved in the House of Representatives

After 40 years (!), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is closer now than it’s ever been to getting a much-needed update. In a 398-1 vote, the House approved H.R. 2576, the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 on June 23. “The world is a different place than it was when the Toxic Substances Control Act was first enacted in 1976,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux in a statement issued after the vote. “The plastics industry has seen amazing growth and transformation in size and sophistication over the last four decades, but TSCA has remained largely unchanged. By approving H.R. 2576, the House of Representatives has taken a big step in the right direction, toward a regulatory regime that protects consumers without making the plastics industry comply with regulations that are redundant or based on outdated science.” Read the full statement here.

-Trade Promotion Authority Clears its Final Hurdle

A day after TSCA reform was approved in the House, and after one failed vote in the House and some behind-the-scenes legislative wrangling, Congress approved “fast track” or trade promotion authority (TPA), a critical step toward a strong, robust Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), among other trade deals that stand to be lucrative for U.S. plastics companies. “TPA will also make it easier for trade negotiators to reach other important free trade agreements (FTAs) that have the potential to further increase exports of U.S. goods. The U.S. only has 20 FTA partners currently, but they purchase a disproportionately high percentage of U.S. goods,” Carteaux said in a statement. “In 2014 these 20 countries received 47 percent of U.S. exports, worth a total of $765 billion according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. Furthermore the plastics sector enjoys a trade surplus of $20.6 billion with America’s existing FTA partner countries. Clearly, FTAs are good for U.S. manufacturing and for the U.S. plastics industry, and TPA will enable the U.S. to expedite more of them in the future.”

-Senate Approves Transportation Bill, SPI Urges Quick Action from the House

Before TSCA and TPA, the Senate approved, by unanimous consent, S. 808, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2015. Specifically the bill aims to strengthen the STB by giving it the tools and flexibility to operate more efficiently as the economic watchdog of the nation’s rail shipping system. SPI and a coalition of other organizations applauded the approval. “Today, most shippers lack access to competitive rail service, and as a result railroad shipping rates have surged over the last decade, rising nearly three times as fast as inflation and trucking rates,” Carteaux said. “Accordingly, this has resulted in an increase in the number, cost and complexity of rate disputes. In its current state, the STB is ill-equipped to handle these developments, but the modest reforms in S. 808 go a long way toward fixing this problem by strengthening the STB and eliminating many of the inefficiencies that have hampered its ability to ensure competitive, sensible rail service to the nation’s plastics manufacturers. A stronger STB would help ensure that plastic materials and products can be shipped efficiently to both domestic and international markets.” Read the full statement here.

Stay tuned to SPI’s home page, Twitter feed and blog for future updates on any and all plastics-relevant legislative developments.

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Hispaniola Sustainability Forum Enlists Plastics, Recycling Industries in Effort to Solve Environmental Problems in Developing Countries

Spend all the money you’d like on machinery, collection bins and other pieces of recycling infrastructure; they won’t be worth much if people don’t fill them with recyclable products. The culture of recycling can often be as important as the infrastructure that supports it, and while here in the U.S. we have both, in other nations, they have neither.

DRBeachPhotoThat’s a problem that Jesús D’Alessandro, a sustainability researcher for the Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) and director of the Foro Hispaniola de Sostenibilidad (FHS), is trying to bring his colleagues together to solve. “I lived in Japan for nearly four years,” he said, “and it was great to see that everyone cooperates. You have schedules issued by the municipalities and you have the days when the garbage is going to be collected, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET), glass and metals. You have to actually wash the recyclables, classify them and keep them at home until the truck comes along. It is a great example of community cooperation.”

The achievement of this level of awareness and cooperation between citizens and the public and private forces that enable this system to work is a result of a long-lasting social cohesion process in Japan, according to D’Alessandro, who noted that in his home country of the Dominican Republic, that process is only just beginning. “The work of educating the society on these basic sustainable development concepts here hasn’t yet been done with the appropriate level of seriousness,” he said.

In October D’Alessandro and other thought leaders from the region will gather for this year’s FHS. SPI first participated in last year’s edition and will be participating again this year in the shared hope that collaboration can help solve what’s both a dire situation in Hispaniola and a great opportunity—in the case of plastic waste management—for the plastics and recycling industries to crowdsource a solution to the island’s waste woes. “There are efforts from the government, but the government alone is not enough: there has to be collaboration from society,” D’Alessandro said. “We wish to integrate everyone into a single platform; everyone together dealing with these issues in real time, which is part of the virtue of the project. It’s an open platform for innovative ideas around sustainable development” that, D’Alessandro and SPI hope, can create a model for other developing nations to successfully manage their waste and recycling issues through the power of collaboration between governments, companies and thought leaders.

According to D’Alessandro, SPI’s participation is particularly valuable because of the depth of the plastic waste problem on Hispaniola (which consists of the Dominican Republic on the eastern half of the island, and Haiti on the west). “Dealing with plastics here is a big issue. Although the collecting industry has grown, there’s still very little collecting and recycling in comparison to our volumes of consumption, which makes it a huge environmental problem right now,” D’Alessandro said. “Unrecycled PET is a great problem here precisely because most of the bottles are of PET resin,” he added, noting that the transient nature of the plastic bottle adds to the problem, particularly when it’s used so frequently in a country that lacks both a culture of recycling and the infrastructure to support it. “The bottle is the item with the shortest service life, particularly the 20-ounce PET bottle. It’ll last in your hand for as little as a minute and a half,” D’Alessandro said. “That is why we have tons on the streets and, of course, there are other types of plastic packaging wasted as well, but the vast majority has longer service life and less demand.”

As any consumer in the U.S. is probably aware, PET is an extremely recyclable material, but again, in the presence of a lot of PET bottles, and in the absence of a recycling culture and recycling infrastructure, the problem has festered, creating both an environmental threat and other economic pressures on local companies and the state. “If there is no culture of recycling, and particularly a culture of classifying the garbage at home, you put all of those costs on the state, and of course the state is already struggling to face other domestic challenges,” D’Alessandro said. “We’re fostering a huge environmental problem and the state will not be able to handle it on its own. In fact, it’s not supposed to do it alone. Our generation is going to have to aid the process.”FHSLogo

The size of the problem in Hispaniola is matched only by the size of the opportunity it presents to industry and sustainability-minded policymakers and residents. Investments in technology and infrastructure on the island will go a long way toward ensuring Hispaniola isn’t consumed by a wave of PET bottles, but securing those investments, no matter how much we take them for granted here in the U.S., will require collaboration. “We’re missing an opportunity, while creating and sustaining an environmental problem,” D’Alessandro said. “We have the challenge to grasp the problem from a systemic perspective, and educate normal people about this issue.”

With any luck, D’Alessandro hopes the collaborative solutions discussed and implemented at this year’s FHS will spread beyond the shores of Hispaniola. “We wish to do this every year as long as it is possible, and so far it has been of interest to many people,” he said. “The goal is to gather everyone at a single table to discuss the challenges of society, and become a reference point for other societies in other places where this is a challenge,” a worthy goal, and one that fits firmly within SPI and the plastics industry’s pursuit of zero waste.

For more information of FHS, or to attend, visit their Facebook page here.