Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Why Manufacturers Need Millennials for Future Growth

By Jill Worth, Marketing and Communications Specialist, The Rodon Group

There has been a great deal of attention paid to the skills gap facing American manufacturers. The gap needs to be addressed before we can develop the engineers and technicians of the future. A study from The National Defense Industrial Association reported that between 5th and 12th grade, 74 percent of the children do not have access to or interest in STEM the coursework they need to thrive in today’s advanced manufacturing environment. Without this baseline education, our young people will not be qualified to fill the highly technical careers that are now the benchmark of a manufacturing environment.  MillennialsBut there is hope. Many companies are addressing this gap by working with local educators and school administrators to support and encourage STEM education. Some organizations partner with workforce development agencies to identify and groom future manufacturing candidates. Still others are using the “old” model of apprenticeships to grow their own talent internally.

ThomasNet recently posted a blog article that focuses on the future of manufacturing jobs and how the millennial generation apply. Linda Rigano, ​ThomasNet’s​ Executive Director of Media Relations​ states “ With new lines of products and services pairing with a steady trickle of Baby Boomers retiring, the industry is set to have a sizable uptick of job vacancies. As manufacturers increase headcount and look to fill current openings, a very valid question pops up: Who exactly will fill these jobs? Well, there’s a number of socially conscious, innovation-driving, job-hungry individuals seeking careers with security and growth potential — millennials.”

Based on their new Industry Marketing Barometer report, ThomasNet created a SlideShare presentation to highlight the reasons why manufacturers need millennials for future growth.

What impact is the skills shortage having on your business?  Do you currently have millennial age employees within your company? We’d like to hear your feedback and thoughts on this topic.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Moving Beyond What’s Easy: Compatibilizer Report from SPI Aims to Improve Quality of Recycled Plastics, Enhance Chemical Skill Set throughout Recycling Value Chain

Plastic scrapThe plastics recycling industry presently faces an environment of lower bale quality and lower yields. It also faces increasing demand for post-consumer recycled material, right at a time when providing that material is especially complicated and costly. Rather than waiting around for bale quality to increase on its own (or for MRFs to place a greater priority on better sorting), recyclers need to become more sophisticated in order to adjust their operations to suit a new normal.

The problem of processing contaminated materials like bales of mixed multi-layer consumer plastic packaging is a chemical one, and so it makes sense to attempt to address it with a chemical solution. But chemistry, at least at the moment, isn’t a strong suit for most recyclers. “SPI is supported by polymer, additive, and machinery makers,” said Sal Monte, president of Kenrich Petrochemicals, a member of SPI’s Recycling Committee. “There are hundreds of different kinds of polymers/processes and their subset applications that all have different functions and market applications, but the recyclers who collect that plastic until recently have not had to operate at that level.”

“Most of the guys who deal with recycle are not chemists,” he added. “If they want to make useful parts that give recycled plastic a second life on a first-tier level, recyclers are going to have to become more knowledgeable about polymer material science.”

compatibilizers-whitepaper-coverEducation and innovation are key to raising the bar for the entire recycling value chain, and a new report, titled “Compatibilizers: Creating New Opportunity for Mixed Plastics,” is the SPI Recycling Committee’s latest attempt to challenge recyclers to move beyond what’s easy and push the entire recycling value chain forward in a way that yields new applications and new value for mixed post-consumer recycled plastics.

Broadly speaking, compatibilizers are additives that get incompatible polymers to “talk” to one another. They’ve historically been used successfully in both the prime resin industry and in the post-industrial plastics recycling arena to increase the value of bales comprised of select mixed polymers, but their use in the post-consumer world has been limited. That’s what the Recycling Committee’s report aims to change. It introduces readers and recyclers to the opportunities these additives present to their business, and to the economic imperative these companies have to find new solutions in a world where the process of recycling plastic materials is only getting more and more complicated.

“Recent findings suggest HDPE recyclers are suffering a 20-percent yield loss, while their PET recycling counterparts are experiencing upwards of 40-percent yield loss,” the report says. “This rate of material loss can quickly change the economics of an operation from black to red. If that yield loss could be put to use as another valuable feed stream, it can dramatically change the economics of an operation, as well as further divert valuable plastics from the landfill.” Compatibilizers are one option recyclers can consider in their efforts enhance their profits while meeting their sustainability goals.

They can also enable the right recyclers with the right expertise to find new markets for their materials by allowing them to impart more desirable qualities to the recycled resin they produce. Incompatible polymers that are recycled can’t be used practically since they delaminate during melt processing such as injection molding to make a PCR containing plastic product. Virgin polymers are also chain scissored during melt processing, giving the resultant post-consumer recycled resin lesser mechanical properties when compared to virgin resin. This limits these materials’ usage in all kinds of applications requiring performance specification polymers.

In essence, compatibilizers enable resins that would not otherwise neatly blend into a useful melt of plastic materials to mix in such a way that the recycled resins acquire greater performance qualities than if the compatibilizer hadn’t been included. They have the potential to give streams of recycled plastic the qualities they require to be more useful, if not as useful as their virgin forefathers, and therefore much more valuable. “The use of compatibilizers is being explored increasingly in the recycling industry as a way to create value in mixed feed streams that cannot be further segregated by resin type, either due to technical challenges related to collecting, cleaning and sorting, or economic infeasibility,” the report observes.

There’s a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” simplicity to using compatibilizers to enhance the value of recycled materials—if you can’t fix bale quality, find a way to make bale quality matter less. But post-consumer recycling isn’t getting simpler; it’s getting more and more complex. To succeed in this environment, the recycling industry has to become more, not less, sophisticated. The Recycling Committee’s report is geared toward challenging recyclers to take their first step in that direction.

Monday, June 8th, 2015

A Simple Matter of Visibility: Brand Owners Amplify the Plastics Industry’s Voice in Congress

US CapitolYou wouldn’t think it’d be that difficult for a $380-billion industry to get its message across on Capitol Hill, but the voice of plastics doesn’t go unheard for a lack of size or influence (and certainly not for lack of trying). The issue is more that, to many lawmakers and American voters, the manufacture of plastic materials and products is opaque. Many consumers don’t even know where plastics come from. These materials have become so ubiquitous in modern American living that they’re considered as much a part of the landscape as the purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain.

The fact that plastics are everywhere is key to the industry’s success and a testament to its ingenuity, but it’s a blessing and a curse. Plastics play a vital role in the economy, but to get the industry’s voice heard from a regulatory perspective, plastics has to educate policymakers and officials who, consciously or not, take the plastics industry for granted.

Brand owners play a key role in amplifying this message, and doing so yields its own benefits, according to SPI Brand Owner Council Chair Jay Olson, manager, materials engineering & technology for John Deere. Olson joined some of his suppliers and other members of the plastics industry supply chain on Capitol Hill recently to help advocate on behalf of plastics and clarify the vital connection between regulations upstream and how they ultimately affect brand owners and their customers.

“They don’t necessarily recognize the names of the manufacturers or the smaller companies, so having us participating with the discussions brings instant recognition,” Olson said. “The meetings I had, they were both with legislators in rural districts, so when I said John Deere they instantly knew that it’s part of the agriculture in their district, and they say the connection of the whole supply chain and how it’s important to the end customer, and voters and jobs.”

SPI Brand Owner Council Chair Jay Olson of John Deere, Inc. (R) SPI FLiP Vice Chair Annina Donaldson of Maxi-Blast, Inc. (L) discussing the plastics industry supply chain in a recent meeting with a congressional staffer.

SPI Brand Owner Council Chair Jay Olson of John Deere, Inc. (R) SPI FLiP Vice Chair Annina Donaldson of Maxi-Blast, Inc. (L) discussing the plastics industry supply chain in a recent meeting with a congressional staffer.

“Most of the jobs are created by the smaller companies anyway, but they don’t have the visibility that brands do,” he added. “They like the visible; they don’t always see the invisible.”

Olson used the example of material deselection as a regulatory volleyball that is aimed further down the supply chain but could have serious ramifications for companies like John Deere, depending on where it lands. “With material deselection and the regulation and restriction of certain chemicals that go into the materials, that increases our costs and it makes our sourcing decisions more complex,” he said. “Say on a tractor, the fuel tanks are all plastic for a number of reasons: cost, lightweight, flexible. If we have to go back to steel, it increases our costs. It increases quality problems in the factory, so the net value to the customer of deselecting a material that we’re dependent on affects the final customer.”

Any company in the plastics supply chain can try to illustrate this to lawmakers and regulators, and many of them do, and do so successfully, but having a brand owner’s name recognition goes a long way toward getting the message to stick.

This isn’t a charitable endeavor on the part of brand owners either: using the power of their brand name to aid their suppliers ultimately helps the brand owner’s business as much as it helps the supplier. “We can be successful if we can help our suppliers be successful,” Olson said. “With all of the regulatory issues that they have to deal with that we don’t necessarily have to deal with… today we just say, oh that’s a supply chain problem. That’s the process some brand owners prefer, but it’s really everybody’s problem.”

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

House Environment and Economy Subcommittee Unanimously Advances TSCA Reform to Full Energy and Commerce Committee

U.S. CapitolThe House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy voted unanimously to advance the SPI-backed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Modernization Act of 2015 Thursday.

The bill would prevent a patchwork of overlapping and conflictual state-level rules governing chemical production and use. It would modernize the system by which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses risks, and also establish protections for companies’ confidential business information (CBI).

Only one amendment was added during Thursday’s markup, a small technical fix put forth by Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) that was added without objection. The final vote in favor of advancing the TSCA Modernization Act was 21-0. The bill now heads to the full Committee for consideration.

The original TSCA was enacted in 1976 and hasn’t been substantially amended since. The TSCA Modernization Act is one of two bipartisan efforts put forth by the 114th Congress to update the nearly 40-year-old legislation, the other being S. 697, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April.

SPI has made TSCA reform a significant priority and continues to engage legislators and industry partners as we pursue reform that updates the regulatory infrastructure without overburdening the plastics industry with overly-rigid rules and reporting requirements.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Turning the Tide on Plastic Bag Bans and Taxes

Over the last 10 years environmental activists have attempted to portray plastic bag bans and taxes as good for the environment. And until recently, they have been successful in their efforts to promote bag bans and taxes, because their claims haven’t been subjected to scrutiny. That’s why the APBA exists: to provide the facts and reveal the activists’ claims to be what they really are—myths.

apba-logoEdgeThere’s a reason that activists have pursued bag bans and taxes at the state and local levels. It’s because these municipal governing bodies historically have less time and energy to spend delving into the unexpected consequences of a certain act or ordinance—operating, in the famous words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, as “laboratories of democracy” and enacting experimental policies.

This type of legislation serves a vital purpose in American democracy, but there is a side effect. It is that bad policies often get passed without the appropriate questions being asked, and environmental activists have taken advantage of this fact. Based on the erroneous and wholly baseless assumption that all plastics are bad—and hinging on the equally false misconception that plastic bags are a major component of litter, state and local legislators have been persuaded by environmental activists to enact policies based on these misguided principles.

There are four questions every state and local legislature should ask about any proposed policy, questions that would reveal the hollow core at the heart of every argument in favor of a plastic bag ban or tax: Is this necessary? Will this be effective? Is this popular? What will be the outcome?

Is this necessary?

Plastic bags traditionally constitute about one percent of litter in most of the U.S. and, according to the EPA, represent only 0.4 percent of the municipal waste stream. No amount of litter is acceptable, but it is crucial that legislators understand that plastic bags are not a significant component of litter and that this is a behavioral rather than material issue. A smarter policy approach would be to educate consumers to change their behavior rather than to unfairly target a single recyclable material. Further, the fact that plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable makes it hard to argue that banning or taxing them is necessary. An effective end-of-life solution already exists.

Will this be effective?plastic shopping bags in use

Because plastic bags are a fraction of litter and an even smaller component of the municipal waste stream, any attempt to ban or tax them is unlikely to move the needle on litter or landfills. Why use a sledgehammer when a scalpel will do? If state and local legislators are serious about promoting thoughtful and effective environmental policy, they can organize litter cleanups and promote recycling and recycling education. Bag bans and taxes don’t work. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from Huntington Beach, California proves this, and that’s why the city repealed its ordinance.

Is this popular?

Ask any of the many municipalities (Homer, Alaska; Basalt, Snowmass, Durango and Fort Collins, Colorado; Darien, Connecticut and Newport, Oregon) that have reversed their ordinances following public input or outcry. Or, look at the disastrous implementation of Dallas’ bag tax and the opinions of residents frustrated by the city’s hastily-enacted and poorly-considered regulation. You also could look to the reaction to California’s statewide bag ban: in less than 90 days the APBA collected the signatures of over 800,000 of California voters who oppose the legislation. In general, plastic bag bans and taxes aren’t popular.

The Anacostia River

The Anacostia River

What is the outcome?

As the Washington Post recently reported, the government of the District of Columbia has made about $10 million in revenue from its bag tax. It is clear that the revenue generated is not going to serve the stated purpose of the ordinance. Funds have been used to pay for things like field trips and personnel expenses instead of on Anacostia River cleanup. And there are other unintended consequences of bag bans and taxes: numerous cities with ordinances have seen an uptick in reported theft from stores; trash bag purchases tend go up in municipalities with ordinances because people can’t reuse their plastic retail bags; according to the NCPA, commerce is displaced from businesses operating in areas with plastic bag bans and taxes to businesses operating just outside of the perimeter that still offer plastic bags at no cost; and, reusable bags largely go unwashed and thereby transmit infectious foodborne diseases. All of these are outcomes of bag bans and taxes, and there’s no actual reduction in litter or a change in the makeup of local landfills.

Conclusions

When plastic bag bans and taxes were first promoted by activists, few legislators asked the right questions. But now state and local governments and the media are beginning to push back, and the tide is turning against bans and taxes.  That’s what SPI and the APBA have been saying all along: that plastic bag bans and taxes are not thoughtful or effective environmental policies, and we’re glad others are seeing the light.