Monday, November 3rd, 2014

SPI: EPS Foam Can Be Recycled, Easily and Profitably

SPI and its Recycling Committee are, once again, out to correct another misconception about plastics.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), the kind that’s found in coolers, in takeout food packaging, in shipped cardboard boxes filled with packaging peanuts and in many other contexts, is a material that’s widely misunderstood and, in more than one corner of the consumer world, mistakenly thought to be unrecyclable.

“EPS serves many important roles in our lives,” said the SPI Recycling Committee in a new paper, titled “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery.” “It insulates. It protects. It has a fraction of the environmental impact in the full life cycle compared to other non-resin alternatives. The greatest challenge for this material at end-of-life is, however, also a symptom of its best feature; it is light, creating a unique set of challenges for collection and processing.” However, as the paper outlines, when paired with the right technology solutions, these challenges are easily overcome.

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

In the just over a year that it’s been in existence, the SPI Recycling Committee has already notched success after success in moving the needle on plastics recycling, and its EPS paper is the latest effort to prolong its winning streak. “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery” finds that “lack of awareness and infrastructure to support the collection of EPS has been cited as a significant barrier to expanding the collection of EPS products,” but that “having the right technology in place to support efficient collection and processing of EPS products is key to unlocking the recovery potential of these valuable materials.”

As such, the paper provides a primer to recyclers working domestically and internationally on what technologies are available to make EPS recycling possible and profitable. In addition to broadly discussing the EPS market and opportunities contained therein, “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery” also includes a list, complete with information on equipment capacity and availability, of technologies recyclers can use to expand their EPS processing capability.

“Investing in technology to expand the recovery and processing of EPS can enable plastics recyclers to meet both an economic and environmental need,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux. “Increasing recycling rates for all types of PCR plastic materials is both good business and good corporate citizenship, and the SPI Recycling Committee continues to do an excellent job leveraging its unique position in SPI, and throughout the entire $374-billion plastics industry, to expand end-use opportunities for recycled plastics, including EPS.”

spi_logo_2000x1007Facts, figures and intelligence such as that contained within the Recycling Committee’s EPS report do more than just serve as valuable business tools for companies in the plastics industry. They also combat the misconceptions that keep plastic materials like EPS and others from being recycled. “People just don’t realize all the options in recycling that are out there,” said Jon Stephens, senior vice president of Avangard Innovative and chairman of the SPI Recycling Committee’s Technology and Equipment subcommittee. “Half the people don’t even know they can take their grocery bags back to the grocery store to be recycled. Once we can get this education piece out and promote recycling and let citizens know that they can recycle this material, more communities will collect it, keep it out of landfills, reduce the space and create a revenue stream for the product.”

“It’s a huge environmental benefit,” he added. “Like any other plastics packaging material, it does serve a purpose, if not for the plastics industry then for the food industry or for the packaging industry. It all serves a purpose.”

Friday, October 31st, 2014

SPI 2014 Student Video Contest Offers Biggest Prize Package in Contest History

$8,500 in Cash, All-Expense-Paid Trip to NPE2015 Still Up For Grabs

Entrants in the Plastic Industry’s 2014 Student Video Contest, hosted by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the Future of Plastics Foundation, aren’t just competing to create the best video that smartly and creatively explores the plastics industry’s bright future. They’re also competing for the largest prize package in contest history.

SPI and the Future of Plastics Foundation, along with the contest’s generous sponsors, will award prizes to the top three submissions. Third place gets $3,500, second place gets $5,000 and, if offering the biggest prize pool in the contest’s history wasn’t a big enough milestone, for the first time ever, the grand prize winner of the Student Video Contest will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, Fla. for NPE2015, the premier event for the entire plastics industry.NPE_logo

This year’s contest asks students to submit 2-4 minute videos on the theme of “Innovating in the 21st Century,” challenging graduate and undergraduate students, as teams and/or as individuals, to explore the future of plastics in the realms of innovation, design freedom and the economics of plastics. Prior contests have focused on the history of plastics and how the world’s brightest minds have relied on these materials to carry society into the modern era, like 2012’s first and second place winners.

“But the truth is that the story of plastic’s past has already been told; we want students to tell us the story of plastic’s future,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux when this year’s contest launched. “Many of the items that we take for granted today seemed like science fiction even a decade ago, but what innovations in plastic will we be saying that about in 10, 25 or even 50 years from now? That’s the question we want our best and brightest to answer in the 2014 Student Video Contest and its theme of ‘Innovating in the 21st Century.’”

Entries will be accepted until Nov. 30. If you’re a full-time undergraduate or graduate student in a plastics program, and want a shot at $3,500, $5,000 or an all-expenses-paid trip to the world’s largest plastics trade show and conference, click over to SPI’s Student Video Contest website for details, and let us know what you think the future holds in store for the plastics industry.

Monday, October 27th, 2014

SPI, APBA Help Students Clean Up Anacostia River

The Anacostia River

The Anacostia River

Nearly 30 years ago, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association was on the beaches of Texas spearheading the country’s first beach cleanup. On Friday SPI staff joined with the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) and a group of 180 fourth- and fifth-grade students to help clean up Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River on Debris Day, an annual event hosted by the Living Classrooms Foundation.

Kids from Watkins Elementary and Tyler Elementary Schools in Washington, D.C. trekked to Kingman and Heritage Islands where they scoured the banks and areas surrounding the Anacostia, wielding plastic trash bags to collect discarded litter and debris. In just a few hours the students collected several bags’ worth of paper, glass, cardboard and even a rusty old spare tire. SPI and APBA staff helped as well, putting their organizations’ zero-waste and pro-recycling bona fides into action by rolling up their sleeves and helping to make the Anacostia cleaner.IMG_5395

Captain Clean Sweep, reporting for duty!

Captain Clean Sweep, reporting for duty!

 

“The U.S. plastics industry understands the importance and value of clean, healthy waterways,” says SPI President & CEO William R. Carteaux. “Litter and marine debris impacts our environment, the economy and even the food we eat. That’s why SPI continues its 40-year legacy of promoting zero waste.”

SPI was among the first industry trade groups to adopt education and outreach programs associated with material and product loss to the oceans and waterways. In 1985 SPI created the industry’s guidelines and best practices for pellet containment: Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). Now an international program, OCS spans across every continent and is endorsed by thousands of manufacturing plants across the world.

SPI and the APBA look forward to participating in future events to support environmental education and continually working to move the needle on recycling and litter reduction.

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The SPI and APBA team.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Democracy in Action: Fort Collins City Council Repeals Bag Fee Ordinance after Citizen Opposition

On Tuesday the City Council of Fort Collins, CO repealed the city’s bag fee ordinance, following public outcry and a concerted signature-gathering effort conducted by a group called Citizens for Recycling Choices. After the city clerk certified the legitimacy of the signatures, the council could’ve placed the ordinance on next year’s ballot, called a special election to decide the issue or repealed the law outright. Councilmembers chose the last option, scrapping the law in a 6-1 vote.

Fort Collins’ ordinance would’ve required retailers to charge a 5-cent bag fee on all bags defined broadly as “disposable,” which included standard LDPE plastic grocery bags that are 100 percent recyclable and reusable. As reported in The Coloradoan, speaking before Tuesday’s repeal Fort Collins City Councilmember Gino Campana said, “citizens went out and formed an initiative and got enough signatures. That’s enough for me to say repeal this.”

“I believe we can be more innovative than charging a fee for a bag,” Campano added.Recycled plastic bags image

After voting to repeal, the Council reiterated that it would continue to work toward zero waste through increased recycling, a goal shared by SPI and the plastics industry at large. The Fort Collins bag fee, which lasted from the council’s adoption of Ordinance 99 in August to its decision to repeal the same ordinance this week, offers a textbook example for recycling advocates to follow when working to make their voices heard about other misguided bag bans and taxes.

SPI opposes bag bans and fees while supporting zero waste and recycling initiatives and hopes other municipalities will consider more innovative approaches to waste management. SPI also hopes that this successful effort in Fort Collins will galvanize voters, who have the power to correct public misconceptions, help preserve choice in the marketplace and hold their legislators accountable for their actions.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Kids “Think Outside the Bag” for Recycling Program Expansion

New Program Designed to Help Flexible Film Recycling Go Mainstream

Consumers generally know that plastic bottles and packaging can be put in a blue bin, collected and recycled. For plastic bags and films, however, there’s an added step, as curbside pickup for these materials is not widespread.  Plastic film recycling requires consumers who live in jurisdictions without single-stream recycling to collect and bring these materials back to the grocery store where they most likely acquired them in the first place.

Returning these materials to where they came from isn’t an enormous burden, but it does contribute to low collection rates (along with the fact that plastic bags are also very likely to be reused, over and over again). Until technology advances in such a way that allows recyclers to sort this material with other more rigid plastic materials (and you can trust that the recycling industry is doing everything in its power to make that a reality) and pick it up curbside, this necessary step, wherein the consumer is both sorter and shipper, will be a part of the plastic film and bag recycling process. Presently, it’s estimated that only 12 percent of this material is recycled. That’s why SPI is working with JASON Learning and looking to kids for a fresh perspective.JASONLogo

The “Think Outside the Bag!” contest is the latest in SPI’s efforts to help promote and increase recycling, and was announced Monday by SPI, its Flexible Film and Bag Division (FFBD) and JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by Sea Research Foundation, Inc. in partnership with the National Geographic Society. It asks students to come up with a creative campaign to increase recycling of flexible plastic film like dry cleaner bags, product wrapping and, of course, plastic grocery bags. “We each encounter flexible film plastic products in our everyday lives,” said SPI Vice President of Industry Affairs and FFBD Liaison Patty Long. “But this material too often ends up in the trash rather than on a truck back to a processor that can turn it back into something useful.”

spi_logo_2000x1007SPI and the entire plastics industry hopes that in the future plastic bag recycling is as routine a part of American life as curbside recycling, and that more of this material ends up at recycling plants than ends up in landfills, waterways or other venues. Losing plastic films and bags isn’t merely environmentally harmful, it’s also economically wasteful, and the entire industry doesn’t want any of it slipping through the cracks. “SPI, the FFBD and JASON are committed to increasing plastic film recycling and we want students to help us make sure none of these materials end up polluting our hometowns, our waterways and our beaches,” Long added.

The contest is another in a long line of the plastics industry’s efforts to increase recycling and use the industry’s expertise to solve environmental quandaries, fitting right in with Operation Clean Sweep, the Plastics Recycling Marketplace and the Zero Waste Zone at NPE2015. In terms of combining a focus on solutions with industry engagement, SPI and JASON Learning make logical partners for the contest. “At JASON we pride ourselves on connecting students with the real professionals working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to explore new frontiers and find new solutions to the problems threatening our environment,” said JASON Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Eleanor Smalley. “The ‘Think Outside the Bag!’ contest will teach students about the plastic film recycling process from some of the industry’s biggest players, and give them the opportunity to think critically about the challenges that keep these materials from getting recycled and how they can overcome them in their communities.”

More information and details for participating student groups are available here. SPI looks forward to seeing what students come up with, and to working with JASON and the next generation of consumers to close the loop on all plastics.