Thursday, February 5th, 2015

SPI, Dart Container Offer Recycling Exit Strategy for EPS Plastic Foam Materials

For Dart, a leading manufacturer of single-use foodservice material, among numerous other plastic products, New York City’s decision to ban plastic foam has raised questions, but hasn’t weakened their resolve to correct some of the most pernicious myths about this material.

“We’re still talking about it and determining our next steps,” said Christine Cassidy, recycling manager at Dart Container. “Dart is one of the leading manufacturers of single-use foodservice material and about half of it is foam. We also manufacture paper, rigid plastic and compostable products. If we’re sending it out to customers we want to make sure they have outlets to recover it at the end of the day,” she said.

This commitment to providing end-of-life opportunities for their products doesn’t prevent legislatures like New York’s from acting rashly, or, given the city council’s central assertion, from acting on false information. “A lot of people say it can’t be recycled, like New York did,” Cassidy said, “but that is not true.”

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

SPI’s Recycling Committee continually aims to combat falsehoods about plastic materials and their recyclability. But in addition to campaigning against misinformation, like the kind on which New York based its EPS ban, the Recycling Committee works to make recycling easier, and more widespread. Most recently it contributed to this effort with its EPS Recycling Equipment Guide, which offers materials recovery facilities (MRFs) across the country a useful tool for purchasing the equipment they need to make EPS recycling a part of their operations.

“It’s not too much equipment,” Cassidy said, offering a counterpoint to EPS recycling opponents who argue that the process is too expensive or too complicated for EPS recycling to go mainstream. The more widespread this equipment becomes at MRFs nationwide, the more easily this material can be recycled through curbside programs, Cassidy added. “With something like curbside recycling, you can add EPS into the bins and it’ll get collected just like paper, plastic and glass, and it’s sorted just like all those other materials at the MRF,” she said, noting that “NYC found adding EPS to their recycling program would not increase mileage or routes on their collection trucks. Haulers typically operate using a certain amount of weight as a threshold. Once a truck has accumulated enough weight, they have to trek to the MRF and drop off what they have. “With foam it’s lightweight so it is able to travel in the unused space on the truck,” Cassidy said. “EPS is only 1 percent of the waste stream.” Like other material bans elsewhere in the country, the good intentions of policymakers don’t exactly translate into real environmental benefits. For example, New York’s ban on foam only applies to foodservice foam, meaning takeout containers and things of that nature, but not egg cartons or meat trays, or the type of foam used to package electronics. “Those aren’t part of the ban,” Cassidy said. “It’s a small fraction of what foam is out there.”

This is an important point. While proponents like the simplicity of material bans, it’s hard to consider them a success when so much material still ends up going to the landfill, rather than to a recycling facility. “They’re really not accomplishing much with the ban,” Cassidy deadpanned. “If they really wanted to do something meaningful, they should have accepted the offer to have it recycled.”

Public education is a great deal of the battle for Dart, and for SPI’s Recycling Committee. “I find that many people do not understand the benefits of foam or that it can be recycled. They usually do not have an alternative once they ban it. Compostable cups are an alternative only if public composting is available and consumer dispose of it in the right way. If not, it is just going to a landfill.” Cassidy said. “You’re saying ban a product that Dart is willing to help the city and municipality recycle, in order to go to a product that you’re going to send to the landfill.”

Laws like New York’s never seem to think beyond the ban; they don’t provide an exit strategy for the material that inevitably comes to take the place when plastic materials are no longer allowed. “If you ban it, what are you going to do with the replacements?” Cassidy said. “Right now many communities don’t have a solution.” All the excitement about material bans seems to drown out that fact; in the long run, whatever material is banned needs to be replaced by something. People won’t start drinking coffee straight from the pot just because they can’t find an EPS cup. The only real solution that provides a plan for what to do with all of these materials at the end of their usefulness is recycling or composting. “New York City only banned a minority of the foam in the city, and they’re landfilling the majority of it,” Cassidy said. “If they went with a recycling program, they’d be able to recycle 100 percent.”

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

SPI, APBA Applaud Huntington Beach’s Move to Repeal Plastic Bag Ban

A great deal of attention has been paid to how much public support plastic bag bans and taxes supposedly enjoy, and how effective these statutes allegedly are. But the recent experience of Huntington Beach, CA might go a long way toward disproving this pernicious myth.Plastic-Bags-Closeup-260w

Huntington Beach, CA – also known as “Surf City, USA” – recently made headlines for taking steps to repeal its existing bag ban. Why would it do such a thing? Because plastic bag bans are unpopular with businesses and consumers and an ineffective attempt to reduce litter and minimize environmental impact.

Even in California, home of the nation’s only enacted statewide ban on plastic bags, plastic bag ordinances are so unpopular as to compel the Huntington Beach City Council to vote 6-1 to repeal their local bag ban. Californians’ general distaste for the state’s bag ban was evidenced by the fact that state legislators had to make a backroom deal with the grocers, who stand to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits if the law is enacted, to force passage of the statewide provision. That’s because the California state legislature had no overwhelming public mandate, and the bill couldn’t be buoyed through the legislature by the support of ordinary Californians.

Moreover, plastic bag bans do not have a discernible impact on litter. This fact was cited by Huntington Beach Councilman Mike Posey when discussing the reasoning behind Surf City’s repeal. SPI and the APBA have said this time and again: the time and effort that go toward supporting and enacting bag bans and taxes would be far better spent advocating for expanded recycling, litter reduction and education, which have the potential to make a meaningful difference. As Posey recently mentioned in a recent article in Breitbart News:

I believe in protecting the environment, and I treasure the beach, ocean, air and environment. I drive a clean diesel-powered car and telecommute a few days per week. I am not necessarily an environmentalist but am steadfastly environmentally conscious. I also value freedom. However, litter from plastic bags is caused by misuse and not use, and I object to punishing everyone because some people choose to litter.

SPI and the APBA applaud Posey and the Huntington Beach City Council for recognizing that plastic bag bans are neither supported by the public nor effective at reducing environmental impact. We hope this example will serve as a wake-up call to other municipalities and encourage them to abandon the ineffectiveness of bag taxes and bans and join us in implementing real world solutions that increase recycling and eliminate litter.

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux Responds to the 2015 State of the Union

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

Like many of you, I was pleased when President Obama highlighted America’s positive economic growth during his annual State of the Union address last night. The declining unemployment rate and more affordable gasoline prices boost consumer confidence, therefore creating a more favorable overall environment for business.  The plastics industry continues to expand because of professionals who invest financial and human resources into new technologies and advancements that enable us to be competitive.

While Washington is usually associated with challenging gridlock, we are hopeful that the President’s promise to reach across the aisle will be a reality during the 114th Congress.  Many of our industry’s most important issues are ripe for bipartisan solutions in 2015.  Among them is continued access to natural resources that provide not just the power to run our facilities, but also constitute our primary supply of raw materials.  Other key priorities include a long overdue update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ensure that chemical regulation takes a risk-based approach going forward, modernization of America’s antiquated tax code and action on multi-lateral trade agreements that break down export barriers.

Importantly, where consensus cannot be reached, we will continue to defend our industry from ill-advised legislative and regulatory proposals.  We are troubled by some of the President’s tax policy proposals outlined last night, particularly those that could deter investors from risking capital, and others that would negatively impact family-owned plastics industry businesses.  We will also continue to respond vigorously to attempts at regulatory overreach.  There simply must be an enhanced focus on science-based decision making by plastics industry regulators.

SPI has a world-class advocacy team that is deeply committed to representing the plastics manufacturing industry.  We were on Capitol Hill when 13 new senators and 58 new members of the House took the oath of office earlier this month, and the sense of urgency in tackling the nation’s priorities was tangible.

We appreciate support from our members as we proudly advocate for an ever-brighter future for us all.

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

How the President and Vice President Came to Visit SPI Member Techmer PM

Three carloads of Secret Service personnel arrived at SPI member Techmer PM’s plant on Jan. 3, and they didn’t leave for another six days. “They never left our plant until the president was gone,” said John Manuck, Techmer’s chairman and CEO.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Techmer’s Clinton, Tenn. facility on Jan. 9, touring the plant as part of an effort to promote American manufacturing and spotlight the creation of the administration’s newest manufacturing innovation hub. While the visit only lasted about an hour, its origins for Techmer were years in the making.TechmerWebShelbyCobra

To paraphrase Hemingway, a visit from the president and vice president happens two ways: gradually, then suddenly. “The Department of Energy (DOE) is always looking for collaboration with private industry,” Manuck said. “About two years ago, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (a DOE facility) became familiar with our capabilities and asked us to join them in a project of theirs in developing a new process to produce carbon fiber.” After his company connected with Oak Ridge, which is a 30-minute drive away from Techmer’s Clinton facility, Manuck said his company began working with the lab enough to build a relationship.

Then, early in 2014, Oak Ridge approached Techmer about a 3D printing project. “The word kind of got around that there’s this company down the road and we’re really easy to work with,” he said. Techmer and Oak Ridge began working and the results were two 3D-printed cars: one that Manuck said “was more like a dune buggy” and contained some of Techmer’s materials, and another that was a replica Shelby Cobra made entirely from Techmer’s materials.

But the two vehicles weren’t the only fruit that the positive working relationship between Techmer and Oak Ridge would eventually come to bear. When the White House began to plan its trip to the Knoxville area shortly after the 3D printing project had been completed, they naturally reached out to Oak Ridge, whose directors suggested that the president include a visit to Techmer’s facility.

Tom Drye, managing director of Techmer’s Engineered Solutions subsidiary and the company’s main point of contact for Oak Ridge, eventually received a phone call from the White House on Dec. 23, 2014, when staff members called asking for photos of the facility. Manuck managed to get hold of his assistant, who swore herself to secrecy both for security reasons and because by that point, only two short weeks before the visit actually happened, it still was not a guarantee. The day after Christmas Techmer’s phones rang again, with officials saying that they wanted a smaller Secret Service team to visit their facility the next Friday, Jan. 2. “We were scheduled to be closed that day and we let them know that, but that was actually probably a good thing to keep this confidential,” Manuck said.

TechmerWebObamaEventually more Secret Service members arrived, and the security protocols began, a process Manuck described as a “learning experience.” “I guess since the assassination attempt on President Reagan, the Secret Service does not like the president getting in and out of a car in a public place,” he said. “They pull the car inside, so they wanted to come in the back of the plant and we had to move some storage racks, which we did.”

While securing Techmer’s facility, Manuck also happened upon a new application for some of the company’s materials. “Our Gaylord boxes are filled with plastic pellets, and the Secret Service guys saw them and said ‘a bullet couldn’t get through this,’” he said. “So they had us move the Gaylords, and wherever he (the President) was going to go, we had a path laid out, part of which was made by stacking Gaylords where we wouldn’t normally have them.”

The day of the actual visit there was a final security follow-up from 7am-9am (“Bomb sniffing dogs, the whole thing,” according to Manuck) and then eventually, upon the President’s arrival, Manuck led him on a tour and had a chance to talk with the President. “I had made notes, and some were what I’ll call ‘self-promotional’ notes,” he said. “I wanted to promote manufacturing in the United States. I wanted to promote private companies, and that how, as a private company, we’re nimble. Most of these I was able to talk to the president about. We had a real dialogue, and that was my intention.”

Certain questions Manuck was able to prepare for ahead of time. “He was going to pepper me with questions. He’s not going to try to trick you, but he’s going to want some real information,” Manuck said. “He asked me how I started the business and I had prepared for that mentally, so I told him that I started off as an engineer working for a big company and just decided that I could do it better.” The President eventually referenced this response in the remarks he gave at the end of his visit.

Additionally, Manuck did research beforehand to dig up some information about his company that he thought the president might find interesting. “I dug up our employment stats and from Dec. 2008 to Dec. 2014, our employment had grown 33%, but that included an acquisition. If you exclude that it was still up 20%.” The President asked what kind of hires Manuck had made, whether they were college grads, two-year college grads or other. “All of the above,” he said, delving further into details about his workforce and hiring philosophy. “Out of high school, they’re not ready. It’s not only the math and the writing, it’s the soft skills, which is what I’ve found to be the biggest problem,” Manuck added. The President agreed with him.TechmerWebObamaManuckBiden

It’s not every day that the president and vice president come to visit a factory, but Techmer clearly made the most of it, from their organizational flexibility and teamwork to Manuck’s preparation. “For us the obvious benefit is the positive publicity that we’ve gotten globally,” Manuck said. “People are still buzzing about it.” A great deal of time and work went in to the successful visit, obviously, but for Techmer and other manufacturers who open their doors for elected officials, and everyone else to see, the process of doing is its own benefit. “Some people have asked ‘was it worthwhile?’” Manuck said. “For us it’s a no brainer.”

Tips from the Presidential Visit to Techmer:

  • Make Connections: Had Techmer not made friends with a nearby government lab more than two years ago, and worked openly and productively with them in whatever way they could, the Presidential visit would never have happened.
  • Be Flexible: Techmer shut down its plant and rearranged its operational schedule in order to meet its visitors’ needs and make up for any downtime.
  • Be Prepared: It might seem obvious, but when you’re hosting an elected official or policymaker, don’t miss your opportunity to leave an impression.
  • Say Yes: Manuck said that the Secret Service repeatedly remarked on how accommodating his team was, which apparently isn’t always the case. “Whether it’s corporate red tape or whatever, companies will just say no to stuff,” Manuck said. “For us, the attitude of my people and I was that if the White House is coming here and they want something, we’re going to provide it.”

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

SPI and the APBA Concur with Texas Gov.-Elect Abbott Regarding its “Patchwork Quilt” of Harmful Regulations

SPI and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) agree with recent comments made by Texas Governor-Elect Greg Abbott: numerous local regulations on a variety of issues are undermining Texas’ reputation as a friendly place to do business. Last week Texas’ first new governor in 14 years got a great deal of press for his vocal opposition to these regulations, specifically “bag bans, fracking bans [and] tree-cutting bans.” Abbott’s position was clearly stated in a Houston Chronicle article on the subject:

“Texas is being California-ized and you may not even be noticing it…We’re forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model. We need to peel back some of these ridiculous, unnecessary requirements.”

This “patchwork quilt” of regulation that he references is easy enough to understand: companies that face a hodgepodge of statutes and requirements within a state often find it difficult to do business in that state in general. And when companies have to spend more time complying than innovating—more time adjusting to ever-changing standards than catering to and satisfying customers—everyone suffers: consumers, businesses and the state economy as a whole.

Remarkably, Texas long ago acted to prevent such a “patchwork quilt” of regulation. As Abbott stated in August, in his role as the state’s Attorney General:

“A court would likely conclude that a city ordinance prohibiting or restricting single-use plastic bags is prohibited by subsection 361.0961(a)(1) of the Health and Safety Code…[and]…a court would likely conclude that section 361.0961(a)(3) prohibits a city from adopting an ordinance…on the sale or use of a single-use plastic bag.”

In other words, the state enacted legislation to prohibit local action on this issue; local governments simply have chosen not to comply with it. Given this recent opinion regarding plastic bag regulation, Abbott’s feelings about it and similar local ordinances should come as no surprise. Texas Retailers Association President Ronnie Volkening, in an article posted on My Fox Austin’s website, summed up the business community’s reaction to Abbott’s comments on the subject:

“We supported Abbott when he was attorney general, when he issued an opinion that there’s an existing state statute which holds that local governments are prohibited from enacting these kinds of ordinances. We support that position and we are encouraged to hear Abbott speak out on that today.”

SPI and the APBA agree: local statutes in Texas regulating the sale or use of plastic bags are erroneous, serious and in violation of state law. The good news is that all the state needs to do to stop its “California-ization” on this issue is enforce the state law that already exists.