Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

For Sorters’ Eyes Only: A Brief History of the RIC

Plastics recycling 25 years ago boiled down to two types of products: PET soda bottles and high-density (HDPE) milk jugs. But if the public, and the plastics industry, wanted to expand the plastics recycling effort, the first thing they needed was a good way to automatically identify the different plastic types.

“It was hoped that if a system was developed where the basic resin was marked on the container itself or on the articles that recyclers or sorters on the recycling line could actually identify those numbers and separate them into a variety of different bins,” said Thomas Pecorini, technology fellow at Eastman Chemical and chairman of ASTM Section D20.95.01 during a recent webinar hosted by the SPI Recycling Policy Subcommittee.

This desire gave birth to the modern resin identification code (RIC) system, created by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association in 1988 to help make it easier for sorters and recyclers to separate different types of materials into one of six (eventually seven) different, broadly-defined resin groups. The goal then was the same as it is now; to reduce waste and ensure that the recyclable plastics entering the municipal waste stream could be collected and given a second life. The question has become, is the RIC still a vehicle for achieving that goal?

Resin ID Code Triangles

The RIC.

What began as a tool to help sorters and recyclers, however, eventually grew to become one of the hardest aspects of plastics recycling for consumers to understand. A poll conducted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and Earth911 between May and July found that consumers are easily confused when it comes to recycling plastics.

“With more and more plastic being produced, it’s essential that plastic products that have reached end of life enter the recycling stream,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “As long as confusion reigns, consumers are apt to throw plastics away that should be recycled. This Earth911/ISRI Opinion Poll demonstrates a strong need for additional education, particularly by municipalities, on what can be recycled and how to do it.” Among the poll’s findings was the fact that 65 percent of respondents answered that they don’t understand what is and what is not permissible when recycling plastics. Additionally, 17 percent of those consumers were most confused by the meaning of the recycling numbers, or resin identification codes (RICs).

The irony in the poll’s findings is that the RIC, created to facilitate recycling, might be making consumers less likely to recycle, simply by confusing them, but it’s important to remember that the RIC was never designed for consumers in the first place. “The RICs were never really intended to suggest that all items with a resin ID code are collected for recycling,” Pecorini said. “Moreover they were never actually meant to be used by the general public and the original system was meant to be an optional system.”

But the deceptive simplicity of the original RIC made it an obvious, although ultimately misleading education tool for municipalities hoping to outsource their sorting procedures to consumers themselves. “Municipal recycling programs tried to bring their sortation-at-home programs and they began informing the consumers that these RICs exist and used it as a public education tool to say if you had six bins in your garage you could self-sort all the different materials,” Pecorini said. “But unfortunately that also fell out of favor because the consumers didn’t want to spend that much time on recycling.”

The RIC’s legacy to the general public is the erroneous suggestion that the presence of a RIC number, surrounded by a chasing arrow, means that the item is automatically recyclable. “This has kind of created a series of problems,” Pecorini said.

As such, in 2008 SPI began working with ASTM to take control over the RIC and convert it to a globally-accepted standard that conveys more information about the material, but the process is a balancing act. Making changes to the labeling system too suddenly could negatively affect moldmakers, and adding too much information to further particularize one of the existing RICs could lead to situations like China’s where an explosion of different categories has given them a system with 140 numbers, as opposed to the RIC’s meager seven.

However, most can agree that replacing the RIC with a more productive 21st century counterpart will require more specifics to make collected articles easier to sort into recyclable groups, and that the RIC should not be used as a public education tool. But many other issues remain under consideration, and ASTM’s work will continue as they strive to set a standard that considers the needs of moldmakers, equipment manufacturers and processors as well as those of consumers. “What we see in recycling right now is transitions from a lot of consumer education and relying on the consumers to sort the material, to more automated sorting,” Pecorini said. “I personally would hope that someday we get to the point where we can tell consumers to just put all your plastics in a bin, and that may very well happen down the pike…but right now that isn’t in place.” That is certainly a vision that is shared by SPI.

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Turning the Tide on the Plastics Conversation

by Kim Holmes, SPI, Director, Recycling and Diversion

Many of the stories featured in the 2014springmagazine-coverspring 2014 issue of The SPI Magazine address the topic of plastics in the marine environment, which is undoubtedly an important issue for the industry. Marine debris stories are regularly in the news and are often the focus of recent scientific research. It is an issue that the industry must respond to swiftly and in a meaningful way.

Like marine debris issues, many of the conversations the plastics industry has with regulators and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are in response to a particular problem or challenge that has arisen. The industry will usually enter the conversation from a position of necessity, which often results in being put into a defensive position—not an easy place to be. Given the opportunity, most would like to be able to reverse the dynamic of these conversations, which would allow them the opportunity and ability to get out a more positive message. There are certainly opportunities for the plastics industry to begin the conversation. The question becomes “what would the direction of this conversation look like?”

Changing the dynamic of these conversations means the plastics industry has to make the first move, giving the public information out about the benefits of plastics, not just defending ourselves from the potential problems. Plastics present many advantages in our lives and in the environment. In fact, the more plastics are measured against other materials, the clearer their sustainability advantages become.

Light weight, less energy intensive manufacturing and production processes, minimal effluents in production, durability and expanded product life span and potential for recovery and recyclability are all areas in which plastics measure up favorably. In addition to these inherent advantages, the plastics industry is also adopting initiatives which aim to further reduce its environmental impact, protect workers and enhance the communities in which it does business. Based on what we see from our members, the industry has already expressed a true commitment to embracing the three core values of sustainability: people, planet and profit—commonly known as triple-bottom line.

As sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor in the decision-making process of consumers and organizations throughout the supply chain, the plastics industry is finding itself in a position to shape a new conversation. Some large companies such as brand owners are starting to leverage the information in their corporate sustainability reports (CSRs) to demonstrate leadership, which in turn improves brand perception and strengthens brand loyalty.

As we enter the arena of environmental reporting, it is important to remember the distinction between promoting “green” efforts and simply “green washing.” Talking about being green becomes green washing when the environmental benefits are overstated or information that could change the overall environmental benefit of your product is intentionally omitted. This pitfall is one that many companies have been accused of over the years. The damage that can be done when a company is suspected of green washing can far outweigh the incremental positive gains from any beneficial claims. While everyone wants to showcase the benefits of a product, the information must also be accurate. This means that data collection has to be done in a methodical and transparent way, while using standard terms and definitions that are generally accepted by industry.

Last year, SPI conducted the first-ever sustainability benchmark survey of its members. In this first iteration, the survey focused mainly on environmental aspects of sustainability and served as a cursory view of our members’ thoughts about integrating sustainability practices into their business. This year, we have assembled a cross-council and cross-committee workgroup to develop a new sustainability benchmarking tool to measure all aspects of sustainability. The criteria of the tool are also more closely aligned with the corporate sustainable reporting framework offered by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The tool will yield information on many of the same core areas that other large companies and industries use for measuring sustainability.

With the findings of the survey, SPI will be able to evaluate opportunities to further help our members integrate sustainable goals and practices into operations. Of equal importance, the tool will equip the industry with necessary data to highlight many of the positive activities happening in the plastics industry, allowing us to begin our own conversations about the benefits of the material and the industry. Participating companies can also use these findings to identify opportunity areas and set new goals around environmental and social stewardship. And for the many small- and medium-sized companies that may not have implemented sustainability benchmarking, participation in this survey will help organize the information that customers seek from suppliers.

While many large companies have already found value in publicly reporting their sustainability efforts, the overall perception of plastics as a material will benefit greatly if we as an industry can communicate our collective efforts. The participation of SPI members from across the entire supply chain is critical for this to be accomplished. Without it, the information being publicly reported will lack both integrity and accuracy.

Unfortunately, there is a reality where the negative conversations about plastics and the plastics industry will never fully die because they are rooted in emotion rather than science. However, we can bring a balance to the conversations with data-driven information about the benefits of our products and industry. This survey will be deployed in the first quarter of 2015 and we ask all members of the plastics supply chain to participate. Can we begin to turn the tide on the plastics conversation in 2014? Through our sustainability benchmarking efforts, the answer is a resounding yes. Together we can construct a message and take ownership of that conversation, but only with the help of everyone in the industry.

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Doors Open Oct. 3 for Annual Manufacturing Day

By Mike Verespej, SPI Correspondent

Plastics manufacturers will showcase what they do and how their companies contribute to the U.S. economy on the third annual Manufacturing Day, Oct. 3.

“Manufacturers make a lot of stuff in the U.S,” said Michael Araten, president and CEO of K’NEX Brands and The Rodon Group, based in Hatfield, Pa. “With Manufacturing Day, (companies) will be able to showcase nationwide what we do so that people get the scale of what we are manufacturing here in the U.S. It is an opportunity for companies to open their facilities to the public and showcase 21st century manufacturing and whet their interests in choosing manufacturing for a career.”

The day—a grassroots effort designed to improve the public perception of manufacturing in America and help manufacturers attract the skilled workers they need for tomorrow—is expected to have well more than 1,200 companies participating—up from 800 last year and 200 in the 2011, according to Manufacturing Day 2014, a group of industry sponsors and co-sponsors.

“Everybody needs to support Manufacturing Day, and open their doors to show people the ingenuity and innovation in the plastics industry,” SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux said. “We need to connect with future generations and talk about the great careers that are available, whether you go to college or not.”

Araten agrees. “To have a successful image and attract new workers, we have to make people aware of what we make. We have to inspire the youth of today and convince them these are the jobs of tomorrow. This is an excellent way for manufacturers to tell them their story.”

Now in its third year, Manufacturing Day will have a new twist for 2014, with the documentary film, American Made Movie, focusing on products made in the U.S. The goal of the film: educate people coast to coast on how businesses in their own backyards support not only their local communities, but the nation’s economy with items made here in the U.S.A that are globally competitive.

In addition, Manufacturing Day gives companies “the opportunity to address common misperceptions about manufacturing,” said Charles A. Sholtis, CEO of Plastic Molding Technology Inc.

“By opening up shop floors around the country, we are able to show modern manufacturing for what it is—a sleek, safe, technology-driven industry that offers secure, good-paying jobs with benefits,” said Sholtis. “Opening up our plants for tours on Manufacturing Day draws greater attention to the outstanding opportunities that a career in manufacturing can provide.”

Rodon, for example, makes sure its tours, show people “things in their everyday life that we make here and all the things that are done behind-the-scenes to get it made,” said Araten. “People are impressed with cleanliness of our plant, how well lit it is, the scale at which we do things, all the high technology, and seeing robots work in practical application.”

Araten also says companies need to participate to help keep America strong.

“To have a truly independent country, you have to be able to make things,” he says. “If you do that, you control your own destiny. And manufacturing is getting more attention as one of things in the U.S. economy that is working.”

“Manufacturing Day helps the manufacturing community (showcase) the innovative industry it has come to be,” and its importance to the economy, adds Sholtis of PMT. “Plastics plays a major role in the manufacturing sector in the U.S., employing approximately 900,000 workers and producing more than $300 billion in shipments annually.”

In 2012, the manufacturing sector contributed $1.87 trillion to the economy or 11.9 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, every dollar spend in manufacturing adds another $1.48 to the economy. Overall, manufacturing supports 17.4 million jobs in the U.S., with an average annual salary of more than $77,000 compared to the average salary of $60,168 for all industries.

This year, as in year’s past, SPI is a sponsor of Manufacturing Day. For more information, visit: www.mfgday.com or call 1-888-394-4362.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Wittmann Battenfeld Equipment Donations Empower Plastics Education

During 2011, Wittmann Battenfeld U.S.A. (Torrington, CT), which supplies injection molding machines, robotics, and a wide range of auxiliary equipment has made a serious effort to help advance plastics education programs across the U.S. It has donated state-of-the-art injection molding workcells to three separate plastics education programs so students would be learning about molding on the type of equipment they will encounter following graduation.

David Preusse, president of Wittmann Battenfeld U.S.A., called the donations “…an important part of who we are as a company,” and added that it helps plastics engineering programs train the next generation of the industry’s work force.

The company’s most recent donation, a new 45-ton ServoPower molding machine with a temperature control unit and material dryer also made by the Austria-based Wittmann Group, was being shipped to Nypro University at the end of November, according to Michael Kirschnick, manager of Wittmann Battenfeld’s injection molding machinery division. He said the ServoPower cell included an integrated Wittmann robot and that it will be used in Nypro’s RJG Master Molding Class as well as to train staff, customers, OEMs, and other molding professionals.

The University of Wisconsin-Stout’s (Menominie, WI) plastics engineering program, which includes a B.S. in plastics engineering, has been working with its new 55-ton all-electric Wittmann Battenfeld EcoPower machine for several months. The workcell, which includes a Tempro Plus C Series temperature control unit and a Drymax E30 material dryer, was demonstrated at a recent RJG Decoupled Molding Workshop in the school’s Technical Center. The workcell is valued at more than $100,000.

University of Wisconsin-Stout students with the school's new EcoPower injection molding system


The EcoPower machine is provided with Battenfeld Web Training for home or workplace learning, featuring live teaching and discussion with experts and certification upon successful completion. Battenfeld Web Service is also a feature of the machine, so servicing can be done using remote diagnostics – no need for a service tech to call.

In the Plastics Applied Technology Center at Cerritos College (Norwalk, CA) you now find a Wittmann Battenfeld ServoMotion 65/210 molding machine at the center of a workcell that includes a Wittmann W811 robot, Drymax D30-50 material dryer, a Tempro temperature control unit, a Coolmax chiller, a granulator, and stand-alone material loader. It will be used not only by students but also by faculty and working professionals to improve their skills. Cerritos College is the only community college in California offering both certificate and degree programs in plastics.

Are these donations effective? Consider that several years ago Wittmann Battenfeld donated a W821 robot to Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, MI, complete with the company’s training materials. Today, what was an elective course is now a full-time molding automation course, and all three sections being offered next semester are fully booked.

Kirschnick said the company is glad it can help students learn on current generation machines, as it will benefit them and the companies they go to work for. A long-term veteran of the molding machine business who recently joined Wittmann Battenfeld, he sounded very pleased as he said the company continued its donation program even when orders picked up and customers were asking for accelerated deliveries.

University of Wisconsin-Stout Has Many Good Friends in Plastics 

Besides the recent donation of equipment by Wittmann Battenfeld U.S.A., Wisconsin-Stout has many friends in the plastics industry. In August 2010, the University received a donation of more than $1 million to fund a minimum of four scholarships annually in plastics engineering from Charlotte and Bob Janeczko, the owners of Innovative Injection Technologies (i2tech, Des Moines, IA). Mr. Janeczko is also an Executive Board Member of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association.

The Janeczkos met while both were attending Wisconsin-Stout and Bob Janeczko explained their reasoning for the donation this way: “If you’re successful, we believe you have an obligation to give back in a meaningful way. We made our money in plastics, and we’re glad to be able to help young people with a career in this great industry.”

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Moldmaker Trade Fair Speeds by 20-Year Mark — Supporting the Future of the Industry Along the Way

Twenty years ago, I doubt that anyone at the first SPI Western Region Moldmaker Trade Fair had any idea that the event would still be alive and well in 2010.  Now called the Mike Koebel Western Moldmaker Trade Fair (named in memory of the industry leader who founded Prestige Mold, Inc. with his wife, Donna), the size of the event has ebbed and flowed over the years to reflect the challenges  that have impacted the moldmaking industry.  Through it all, the event has even managed to raise funds  for schools and universities with moldmaking and plastics programs. 

 Tuesday, October 26 is the date for this year’s 20thAnnual Mike Koebel Moldmaker Trade Fair, which attracts attendees from the moldmaking and molding communities throughout the West and beyond.  It continues to be an outstanding networking event and an economical way for exhibitors to showcase their wares to eager attendees and potential customers. 

 For the second year, the Trade Fair will be at the National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.  So in addition to visiting the various exhibitors, attendees can feast their eyes on a spectacular array of vintage and historical racing vehicles and memorabilia.    

The success of this program helps the SPI Western Moldmakers Committee continue their goal of giving back to the moldmaking community.  Over the last 13 years, they have donated nearly $80,000 to Western-based schools and universities with moldmaking and plastics programs. 

 Trade Fair registration is open now.  Attend and help us celebrate 20 years of moldmaking in the West!