Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Operation Clean Sweep Celebrates 25 Years

25th_anniversary_logoOperation Clean Sweep (OCS) is a voluntary stewardship program for facilities that handle plastic materials. Administered jointly by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), OCS is designed to help facilities implement procedures to keep plastic materials out of our waterways and eliminate plastic pellet, flake and powder loss.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Clean Sweep. Today OCS is being implemented in 23 countries around the world, by companies in 34 states in the U.S. Through the tireless efforts of OCS’ supporters and partners, the plastics industry has made significant strides towards zero plastic pellet, flake and powder loss. OCS is an ever-changing program, but the goal of eliminating pellet, flake and powder loss has not changed. Here’s a look back at some important milestones in OCS history.

 

1980s

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Marine Conservation (now known as the Ocean Conservancy) conducted studies that detected plastic pellets in U.S. waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

 

1986

hopper

SPI began working towards a solution to contain plastic pellet loss, creating educational programs for the U.S. plastics industry. Additionally, SPI’s Resin Pellet Task Force was established to educate the plastics industry and consumers about the negative consequences of plastic pellets in the marine environment.

 

 

1991

Operation Clean Sweep was created by SPI. Companies throughout the plastics industry signed the pledge to work toward zero plastic pellet loss.

 

2004

acc

ACC partnered with SPI and created the OCS website, which offered an online manual, and other tools, to assist companies with implementing their own OCS program to reduce pellet loss.

 

2011

SPI released OCS as a royalty-free license for international plastic organizations, enabling organizations like the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), the Asociación Nacional de Industrias del Plástico (ANIPAC) and others to promote OCS to their own members and encouraging companies to implement the OCS guidelines at facilities all over the world.

 

2014

ocs

OCS created a new supporter category allowing companies who do not directly manufacture or handle plastic materials to publically support the mission of OCS. Supporters of OCS pledge to encourage other companies, associations and coalitions to participate in OCS and educate customers, suppliers and member companies about the program.

 

 

 

 

 

2015

Two new categories of plastics materials, plastic flakes and powder, joined plastic pellets in the OCS mission statement. The addition of these two types of material widened the scope of OCS, expanding beyond one specific aspect of the plastic life cycle to welcome recyclers and other companies that regularly handle plastic materials.

 

2016

OCS 2.0 was launched. Now, OCS counts facilities rather than companies to give a more accurate representation of the industry.

 

2016 and Beyond  

Although OCS has made a positive impact on the plastics industry and the global marine environment, the program continues to expand through its growing number of global partnerships. No matter where your facility is located, OCS offers all plastics-handling companies an extensive manual of best management practices to implement, free of charge. If your company has not signed the pledge to join and participate in OCS, there has never been a better time to do so. Together, we can eventually achieve Operation Clean Sweep’s goal of zero pellet, flake, and powder loss.

 

turtle

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Is Your Product Industrially Compostable?

 

Biodegradable

Companies today are focused on creating products that are sustainable, meaning they are made with materials that minimize the impact on our environment. You may have some familiarity with biodegradable products, which are one solution to companies’ need to create environmentally-conscious products. When marketing sustainable attributes to consumers, the Federal Trade Commission has said that these claims must not be confusing, and should be supported. To aid our members and other companies, SPI recently released a Guidance Document: Industrial Compostability Claims Checklist to help evaluate your product’s or packaging’s industrial compostability claims.

There’s some confusion out there when it comes to understanding biodegradability. Let’s clear things up a bit by first explaining what it means for materials to be biodegradable.p evaluate your product’s or packaging’s industrial compostability claims.

 

bioplastics-are-300x114

 

Biodegradable means that something will be consumed completely with the assistance of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi.

  • When a biodegradable plastic (bioplastics) is disposed, it will be broken down into biomass, carbon dioxide, and water, if in an oxygen-rich environment, or methane, if in an oxygen-poor environment.
  • There are different methods to make biodegrade materials, such as:
    • Marine degradation (degrades in the ocean),
    • Soil degradation (degrades in the soil), or
    • Home/industrial composting.

Now, let’s break down composting.

 

Biodegradable 1

 

Composting can be coined “home” or “industrial” composting.

Home composting differs from industrial composting in three major ways: 

  • Scale: Industrial composting is done by the truckload, and compost windrows (long rows of piled compost) can weigh thousands of pounds. In contrast, home composters may have a small pile or barrel
  • Management: Industrial composting is much more actively managed.
  • Temperature: In industrial composting, the compost mound is very hot due to the composted materials being shredded, turned frequently and handled with more rigor than in home composting, which is done in much cooler temperatures.

Industrial composting is very common throughout Europe. The United States has fewer opportunities to divert food/yard waste and compostable bioplastics to industrial composters. To see if there is a composter in your area, go to FindAComposter.com. Each composter’s process is different, and some only accept yard waste, or only food service waste; others  do not accept bioplastics. Be sure to check before composting!

Like all plastics, bioplastics need to be properly disposed of when they’ve reached the end of their usefulness, in a way that maximizes their value, whether that’s through recycling, home composting or industrial composting.

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Plastic Packaging and the Ability to Feed People

FoodPackaging_StockPhotoOne of the simplest reasons packaging is poised to become a nearly $1 trillion industry in the next decade is because it contains, protects and preserves food and water. With as much food and water as we consume, the prevalence of food waste, and packaging’s role in eliminating it, was a prominent theme at this year’s Flexible Film & Bag Conference, which wrapped up in Houston, Texas last week.

The plastic films and flexible plastic packaging that covers meat, poultry, cheese, vegetables and other edible goods prolong the life of the products they contain by shielding them from bacteria, heat, cold and moisture, among other things. Attendees representing the companies that manufacture some of these items discussed ways to make their products more efficient and effective in combating lost and wasted food, a global issue that’s reached critical levels in environmental, economic and humanitarian terms.

Chopin at the 2016 Flexible Film & Bag Conference

Chopin at the 2016 Flexible Film & Bag Conference

“Food waste is an incredible problem,” said presenter Lamy Chopin of Dow Chemical. “If you consider the ripple effect of losing valuable food, the farmers that have invested in the land…any of that product that doesn’t get consumed has a significant greenhouse footprint.” The financial impact of food waste, according to Chopin, is up to $300 billion lost annually.

Environmentally, the impact of food waste is at least ten times larger than the environmental impact of packaging, and part of what makes that the case is plastic’s unique material and manufacturing properties. “One of the reasons why plastics are winning in the space of packaging in particular is they’re incredibly efficient,” Chopin noted. “They win out in terms of energy use and impact” when compared to other packaging materials, he added.

The epidemic of food waste and the ramifications it has for society are a huge priority for agencies, NGOs and governments around the globe. Plastic materials, particularly plastic films, will have an important role to play in combating these issues, and doing so as sustainably and efficiently as possible.

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Bioplastics 101

Bioplastics are found in our daily lives, and people don’t know it. They drink from biobased plastic bottles or drive in cars with seats and tubing that come from biobased sources. They go to parties and eat with compostable plates and forks. At the hospital, bioplastics are found in sutures and implants.

biobased benefitsThe histories of plastics and bioplastics have always been closely linked. The first man-made plastic – celluloid – was created to replace ivory in billiard balls, and went on to imitate ivory in many other applications, including combs and piano keys. Poly(lactic acid), one of the most common biodegradable bioplastics, was commercialized in the 1950s and used for medical applications until a breakthrough in manufacturing enabled it to become a large-scale commodity plastic in the mid-1990s.

Biobased and Biodegradable

Bioplastics are plastics that are 1) biobased, meaning they come from a renewable resource, 2) biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally, or 3) are both biobased and biodegradable. There are durable bioplastics made entirely from sugar cane, and some biodegradable plastics that are derived from nonrenewable resources.

Biobased means that a percentage of the carbon found in the plastic comes from a renewable resource. Resources used to make biobased bioplastics are called feedstocks, and include corn, sugar cane, castor beans, saw dust and even algae. Some have raised concerns that making plastics from plants means that this process reduces the amount of food available, but less than .01% of the land used for growing is used to make bioplastics. That’s like saying for every 12.5 ears of corn grown, one kernel is used to produce bioplastics.

golden wheat field and sunny dayBiodegradable means that bioplastics break down completely through a natural process within a short period of time into elements found in nature. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, and larger creatures like earthworms, eat the plastics for food, breaking them down for energy and converting them into carbon dioxide, methane and water.

Biodegradation, however, can vary based on a lot of factors and is therefore not as helpful a term for consumers. It’s more important for them to know how to properly dispose of a biodegradable object. That is why we use terms such as “home compostable” or “industrially compostable” to help give consumers the information they need to properly dispose of certain bioplastics. Home and industrial composting differ because home systems use simple methods, such as a compost pile, with much greater variability and lower temperatures than industrial composting.

Bioplastics and Degradable Additives

Oftentimes there is confusion between bioplastics and plastics to which a degradable additive has been added. Both SPI and others have concerns about products that claim to be able to convert traditional durable plastics into biodegradable ones, and consumers should be wary of these products as well.

Bioplastics and Recycling

Bioplastics can be recyclable—even those that are biodegradable! Composting is a complement to recycling, and provides an alternate end-of-life option for plastics that cannot be recycled due to food waste contamination.

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Less is Less – The Battle to Wrap It Up in Plastic

By Michael Taylor, Vice President International Affairs and Trade

When it comes to packaging – plastic is the environmental material of choice.

Plastic products are environmentally-friendly, and manufacturers who produce these versatile products take pride in their efforts to implement sensible green policies and procedures.

And, to quote David Tyler, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon, “Plastic bags are greener than paper bags, disposable plastic cups have fewer impacts than reusable ceramic mugs, and owning a dog is worse than driving an SUV.” fish bottles

When you consider the entire “life-cycle” of packaging materials, plastics compare favorably to other materials in areas like energy and water use, air and greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste. It has been demonstrated that plastic packaging helps reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative materials.

How does plastic packaging help with sustainability? Simply put, plastic does more with less. It is more energy efficient to make plastic as opposed to other packaging materials, and it takes less lightweight plastic to package a product.

For example, two pounds of plastics can deliver roughly 10 gallons of beverages as compared to three pounds of aluminum, eight pounds of steel or more than 40 pounds of glass. Lighter packaging means less fuel is used in shipping. That is, plastic bags require less total energy to produce than paper bags,  and they conserve fuel in shipping (ie., one truckload for plastic bags versus seven for paper).

Replacing plastic packaging with non-plastic alternatives in the United States would:

  • Require 4.5 times as much packaging material by weight, increasing the amount of packaging used in the U.S. by nearly 55 million tons (110 billion pounds);
  • Increase energy use by 80 percent—equivalent to the energy from 91 oil supertankers; and
  • Result in 130 percent more global warming potential—equivalent to adding 15.7 million more cars to our roads.

And plastics engineers continually work to do even more with less—this process of light-weighting can help boost the environmental and economic efficiency of consumer product packaging. Since 1977, the two-liter plastic soft drink bottle shrunk from 68 grams to 47 grams, representing a 31 percent reduction per bottle. This saved more than 180 million pounds of packaging in 2006—just for two-liter soft drink bottles alone. The one-gallon plastic milk jug succeeded on a similar diet, weighing 30 percent less today than 20 years ago.

Next to lightweight (or source reduction), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies “reuse” of packaging as the next highest priority in managing waste. Plastics packaging’s durability enables reusability in storage bins, sealable food containers and refillable sports bottles. And 90 percent of Americans report that they reuse plastic bags.

In summary, plastic is the smart material of choice because it’s light, inexpensive, versatile – and recyclable.

To learn more about plastic packaging, please view SPI’s latest Market Watch report,  “Packaging Market Watch: Plastics Wraps it Up”. It may be accessed by visiting SPI’s website at http://www.plasticsindustry.org/.