Friday, September 17th, 2010

Power of Plastics! SPI Members Meet with Lawmakers on Capitol Hill

As part of  SPI: The Plastic Industry Trade Association’s three-day Fall 2010 National Board Meeting, members brought their voices, insights and concerns to Capitol Hill on September 15th.  Taking place just two months before the November elections, this was an ideal opportunity for the plastics industry to make an impact with their Senators and Representatives.

In all, 53 people representing SPI member companies visited nearly 50 distinct congressional offices — telling plastics’ story as the third largest manufacturing sector in the nation.  SPI members discussed a wide range of business issues with legislators, including energy, the R&D Tax Credit,  Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform, health care, cap and trade bills and a host of regional or state-specific concerns. One item that seemed to be on everybody’s mind was jobs, jobs, jobs! 

It was important for SPI members to educate lawmakers about the plastics industry and remind them that our industry employs more than 1 million people. The visits also established SPI members as industry and business experts whom legislators should consult when in need of accurate information on a variety of critical issues.

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Day 2: Flexible Vinyl Products Compounding Conference

How do you move forward, improve and grow while simultaneously defending against unfounded efforts by others to impede those very advancements? That was the nature of the presentations on the second day of SPI’s Flexible Vinyl Products 21st Compounding Conference, as they alternated between  discussions of cutting-edge research, the latest market information and new tools to improve products on one hand, and strategies to negotiate product de-selection initiatives on the other.

Bill Hall, who chairs the environmental law practice at Winston & Strawn, presented a range of measures to employ in order to discourage product de-selection, and reminded attendees of the famous phrase of his former basketball coach, the late great Jim Valvano: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Hall played basketball under Valvano at Bucknell Univesrsity, prior to Valvano winning the NCAA national championship as the coach of North Carolina State University in a highly memorable last-second upset victory in 1983.

Later in the day, members of the ACC Phthalate Ester Panel exposed several anti-phthalate studies and news reports as myths using a glaring spotlight of reality in the form of government  statistics and common sense conclusions drawn by a variety of independent experts. The panel members also provided a regulatory and legislative update as well as a report on recent media trends.

Bill Carroll spoke to attendees about a few things, including his work as a member of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative Science Advisory Panel. The Green Chemistry program is a highly complex, some might say “convoluted,” process to remove or reduce chemicals deemed hazardous from products sold in California. Carroll, vice president, industry issues for Occidental Chemical Corporation, an an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University, also engaged conference attendees in a discussion about the future of the flexible vinyl industry, asking, “Where will we be in 10 years? Where do we go from here?” The ensuing conversation swung from the need for greater innovation, to the need to be less risk-averse when it comes to investing  financial resources in compelling opportunities, and the possibility of the federal government setting policies that make the United States a friendlier place to do manufacturuing business.

But in addition to sessions on how to deal with negative external challenges, attendees also heard from speakers who brought expertise to the table that would help them do their jobs better and improve their vinyl products. Jim Roberts of BYK-Gardner, for example, spoke about how to best measure color, gloss (the amount of light reflected off a surface), haze, clarity and other physical properties of vinyl and its products. This is particularly important in today’s manufacturing world where one part of a product may be made in the United States as others are being made at other plants around the world. When they come together, they need to be exactly alike. Luckily, as I learned, there are lab and production line tools like the “Micro-Gloss” and “Spectro-Guide.”

Toward the end of the day, industry lion and Lord of the Rings enthusiast Dean Finney, retired from Eastman Chemical Company and now almost set to retire from Rivendell Consultants, paraphrased the Tolkien character Aragorn in addressing his embattled flexible vinyl colleagues: “Success does not belong to one man but to all. Let us together rebuild this world that we may share in the days of peace.”

Monday, February 1st, 2010

WaterBrick: IPDC Winner Helps Provide Clean Water to Haiti

It has been six months since the premier of the International Plastics Design Competition (IPDC) at NPE2009. In the relative quiet since the awards were celebrated and the last exhibits found their way home, I was recently reminded again of the excitement and pride we all felt to learn of so many critical problems being solved through innovation with plastics materials. 

Last week, as  I continued to read through news of the earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti, I thought of one plastic product in particular: the WaterBrick, which won two IPDC Awards last June — in the Sustainability Part/Component and Industrial/Military categories. Two plastics industry companies — FPM Tooling & Automation (designer and moldmaker) and ACM Plastic Products(molder) — were key to producing this life-saving resource. 

The WaterBrick is an industrial container made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) that is recyclable and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for water storage. It can be air-dropped into disaster zones to provide 3.4 gallons of clean water per container to people in need.  The use of HDPE renders the WaterBrick less costly than comparable steel containers, and careful design enables the containers to withstand the impact of a fall to the ground from a plane.  Once the water inside is used, the WaterBrick can be refilled with dirt or sand and utilized as a building block for construction of shelters in lieu of expensive concrete blocks (which is the case in Mkuze, South Africa.) 

It occurred to me that if these WaterBricks were not being sent to Haiti, then someone should find a way to get them there.  I was thrilled to discover that WaterBrick International had indeed formed a partnership with GlobalGiving to raise funds to get as many WaterBricks as possible into Haiti.  I encourage everyone  to donate – as little as $10 provides one person with a week’s supply of clean water!  (Currently, WaterBricks are not being used for shelter purposes in Haiti.)

It is gratifying to work directly with people and companies whose products transform lives and help overcome challenges of this magnitude — and we in the plastics industry get to do it a lot.  Let this example be a reminder for us to continue encouraging innovation and supporting one another’s efforts to make the world a safer, healthier place for all.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The Rise and Fall (and Rebirth?) of Science Journalism

On December 3rd in Atlanta, SPI’s Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) will join media analysts and officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking on one of the greatest challenges currently facing the plastics industry, consumers and the regulatory agencies that seek to protect human and environmental health while promoting innovation: The misreporting and intentional distortion of science in the news media.

There are all manner of booksweb sites, reportscolumns and more web sites devoted to this topic. Prompted in part by CNN‘s decision one year ago to cut  its entire space, science and environment unit, the World Federation of Science Journalists hosted a press briefing  in February titled, “Is Science Journalism in Crisis?

Reporting on science has suffered a marked decline in quality, accuracy and breadth of coverage in recent years for a variety of reasons, many of them economic and political.  Under competition from Internet sources like blogs and online videos, science journalists are often the first to be laid off from traditional news organizations. We’re left with journalists who have little or no science background doing their best to write the occasional science story, often using the very blogs and online videos that are competing for their jobs to drum up hot stories. Instead they should be turning directly to the scientific community and the peer-reviewed journals for science stories.  Unfortunately, the blogosphere and the online video channels, and by extension the journalism that relies on them, are rife with unreliable information and scientific claims of questionable origin.

The end result is that the public is often fed misinformation from trusted media outlets that misinterpret or, worse still, intentionally misuse scientific studies to put out sensational stories.  The danger is that society can be led to divert significant time and money away from serious problems to issues that the most rigorous science available suggests are of comparatively low concern for the health and well-being of people and planet.

Consumers can also be put at risk by news stories that direct them to choose certain products on the basis of poorly designed or biased scientific studies.  Instead of making well-informed product choices and having a reasoned discourse on critical issues like consumer health, the global environment and the efficacy of our regulatory agencies, we’re all busy trading narratives manufactured by struggling media outlets and agenda pushers.

A recent editorial in Nature decried the decline in science journalism and challenged scientists to step up and fill the void directly by blogging and sharing their research through channels that are more accessible to the public than peer-reviewed academic journals.

Those gathered in Atlanta for the FDCPMC Winter Conference will examine ways that they, too, can get involved in correcting misinformation in the news media. Perhaps one way is by helping reporters without scientific backgrounds gain access to clear, easy-to-understand, sound science on the issues they are covering.  Conference attendees will explore the roles that industry, the research community, the regulatory agencies and media watchdogs can play in ensuring that the public receives the full story and can make educated decisions about the products they use, the materials they trust, and the policies they support.  Everyone stands to gain when people are empowered to make decisions based on the best information available.

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Autumn Brings New Jersey and Virginia Voters Back to the Polls

Summer is ending. For most, the vacation is in the rear view mirror and for many it’s ”back-to-school” time already. For voters in New Jersey and Virginia, the fall season will also mean a return to the polls come November 3rd.

All registered voters in both states have the privilege to elect a Governor in November,  and New Jersey voters will also cast votes for members of the General Assembly. This November is a prelude to next year when 37  states will hold not only gubernatorial elections but many local, state legislative and congressional races too.

In New Jersey, running for re-election is sitting Governor Jon Corzine (D), to be challenged by Chris Daggett (I), a former regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a nd Chris Christie (R), a former federal prosecutor.  At this time, Christie is leading in the polls.

In Virginia, Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) and state Senator R. Creigh Deeds (D) face off.  The race is considered close.

To jumpstart the process, visit the election pages of the  New Jersey and Virginia state websites, as well as the League of Women Voters’ sites for New Jersey and Virginia.  Share this information with friends, family and colleagues.

Are you familiar with the candidates?  Are you happy with the status quo?  Are you looking for change?  Are you registered to vote? (If not, SPI’s Political Action Center can help!) Will you vote?  I sure hope so!

Do your homework! If you live in Virginia or New Jersey, mark your calendars for November 3rd, and Get-Out-the-Vote!