Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Plastic Bottles Shed Light on Needy Families

This article originally appeared on the Plastics Makes it Possible Facebook Page

In the impoverished neighborhoods in and around Manila, Philippines, millions of people live in darkness in their homes—even in the daytime. Electricity is often too expensive, and windows are a building expense that many cannot afford.

To change this, a local social entrepreneur has created a program calledPMIP Photo 73114
A Liter of Light that illuminates the homes of underprivileged families by creating solar-powered light bulbs from a resource some may find surprising: used plastic soft drink bottles.

Volunteers for A Liter of Light begin by gathering discarded, clear plastic bottles. The volunteers then fill each bottle with water and a few drops of chlorine bleach (to retard algae growth). They then fit the bottle snugly into a custom-cut hole in the roof of a home, with the bottom of the bottle extending down into the room below. This allows the clear plastic bottle and water to refract the sun’s rays and scatter light into the house. A silicone plastic sealant applied to the roof and bottle prevents water leaks during rainy tropical weather.

On a sunny day, this simple device can produce approximately 50 watts of light in an otherwise dark room.

Because plastics are lightweight and durable, the bottle lights are easy to install and are expected to last more than five years. And the materials to produce the lights cost very little—or nothing, in the case of discarded bottles gathered by volunteers—which makes it possible for A Liter of Light to help many, many people. The program envisions installing plastic bottle lights in one million homes by the end of 2012.

In an area in which some households earn less than a dollar a day, the plastic bottle lights reduce household expenses, as well as the fire hazards associated with faulty electrical wiring and candles. And when the lights need to be replaced, the plastic bottles can be recycled and new solar lights can be installed for little or no cost.

People often find creative ways to reuse plastic products. These new uses can be practical (such as reusing a plastic grocery bag as a trash can liner), or they can be fun (like making a Halloween costume out of plastic bottles). And sometimes, they can help improve people’s lives by creating a solution to a big problem—in this case, “a sustainable lighting project which aims to bring the eco-friendly bottle bulb to low-income communities nationwide.”

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

State Department Tackles Marine Debris, Invites SPI into Discussion

By Mike Verespej, SPI Special Correspondent

The Our Oceans conference did more than just call attention to the need to protect the world’s oceans. It also made it clear that all countries and groups, including the plastics manufacturing industry, need to continue to be part of the solution.

“The ad hoc approach we have today with each nation and community pursuing its own independent policy simply will not suffice,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in his keynote address. “We are not going to meet this challenge unless … the entire world comes together to try to change course and protect the ocean from unsustainable fishing practices, unprecedented pollution, or the devastating effects of climate change.”Our Ocean

“There are a lot of challenges staring us in the face and we need to act on them,” said SPI president and CEO Bill Carteaux, who attended the invitation-only meeting this past June in Washington. “Getting the invitation to go was certainly a feather in our cap and recognition by the State Department that the plastics industry is not just part of the problem, but part of the solution, and needs to be in the discussion.”

Carteaux believes SPI’s presence at the conference will help develop relationships with non-government organizations (NGO) that might not have been otherwise possible.

“It has given us a platform to connect with NGOs and begin to develop projects with them,” he said. “We already have meetings set up with several NGOs. It is heartening to me that people want our help and want us to work with them.”

In addition, SPI and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) will meet this year with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to address marine debris issues.

More than 60 plastics associations representing 34 countries have more than 185 projects underway to address marine debris—part of an initiative that began in March 2011.

Those initiatives include the Operation Clean Sweep plastic pellet containment program that SPI and ACC have taken globally to 14 countries and

“It is still early, and no one has all the answers to tackling marine debris, but we are making progress,” said Carteaux. “One of the keys is to attack it and get people to dispose of things properly. A number of people at the conference came up to me and said ‘I’m glad you’re here because the plastics industry isn’t the problem, it’s an issue of people not disposing things properly.’”

“We want to push recycling and collection around the world, and push new uses for recycled material,” he said, “because if we do that, plastics won’t end up in wastewater and in oceans.”

Nestle Waters North America also believes “recycling is the cornerstone of sustainable packaging”—and solving the marine debris problem.

“Policy and action can work together to help advance stewardship of the oceans and all waterways,” said Brian Flaherty, vice president of public policy and external affairs for Nestle Waters North America, who addressed the issue of marine debris in a presentation at the conference. “We need to stop plastics from entering our oceans in the first place. The global challenge of marine debris that we are talking about here today is massive in scope. It is going to take all stakeholders coming together and making commitments to identify and implement solutions.

“The lessons we’ve learned are be humble, listen, learn and evolve,” said Flaherty. “Think big, take the first step and be transparent on how you’re doing.”

Carteaux said he walked away from the conference with at least three projects SPI can immediately work on:

  • Get other countries to allow the use of post-consumer recycled resin in food packaging, similar to the approach of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Campaign for tax credits for the use of recycled resin.  “If we can develop the markets, we can get the supply.”
  • Solve the challenge to recycling that comes from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles that have polypropylene caps.

“Addressing those things would have a significant impact on what’s going on and begin to solve some of the issues that lead to marine debris,” he said.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Sholtis Credits Staff with ‘Manufacturer of the Year’ Award

By Mike Verespej, SPI Correspondent

You could fill a book with the long laundry list of accomplishments that led to injection-molding company Plastic Molding Technology Inc. being chosen in March as the 2014 small company Manufacturer of the Year by the Manufacturing Leadership Council. In its 10th year, Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council honors companies and individuals that are shaping the future of global manufacturing.

And while certainly proud of what the $10 million El Paso, Texas, company with 100 employees has accomplished, CEO Charles A. Sholtis is even prouder of what the award says about his workforce.

Charles Sholtis

Charles Sholtis

“The award speaks volumes about the caliber of our management team, the workforce we have, and what they’ve accomplished the last three years in streamlining processes, identifying areas for waste and cost reduction and finding ways to be more sustainable,” Sholtis said. “It says a lot about their ability to take on large projects as a team and make the company more profitable through operational excellence.”

Indeed, despite escalating raw material prices and the economic crash in late 2008, PMT achieved record revenue and earnings in fiscal years 2010 through 2013.

“You are only as good as your people. Without them, we wouldn’t be the success story we are,” said Sholtis. “These honors simply reinforce that the plastics industry is at the forefront of best practices in manufacturing.”

Here are just some of PMT’s achievements the last three years:

  • Savings of 1.8 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year, half of them from a grinder control system developed in-house that has reduced energy consumption on the company’s 40 plastics grinders by 95 percent or nearly 900,000 kWh annually.
  • Eighteen all-electric presses added since 2010—part of a $2.9 million investment in equipment and automation—have cut energy consumption by almost 400,000 kWh annually.
  • Plant-wide efficiency has improved to 96 percent, and on-time deliveries have risen to 98 percent.
  • Production scrap was reduced by more than 50 percent in the first year of a program to cut waste. The company also reduced its use of virgin resins by 380,000 pounds annually by blending in plastic regrind and using recycled resin.
  • A new mold storage system has saved an estimated 780 man-hours per year and sped up the mold setting process, and a new overhead crane system for mold handling has saved an estimated 250 man-hours annually.
  • A standalone mold service bench with a gantry crane on the production floor has reduced the time needed for routine cleanings, saving another 420 man-hours per year.

Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council in March honored 100 world-class manufacturing companies and individual leaders as winners of the 2014 Manufacturing Leadership Awards (ML Awards). According to the Council, recipients of the ML Awards have distinguished themselves by embracing breakthrough innovation and enabling their companies to anticipate and respond to customers with unmatched agility.

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Hilex Poly Busts Myths About Plastics in Marine Environment

By Philip R. Rozenski, Director of Sustainability for Hilex Poly Company LLC, Policy Chair for the American Progressive Bag Alliance

As a leading American plastic bag manufacturer in the United States and operator of the nation’s largest closed-loop plastic bag recycling facility, Hilex Poly understands the importance of keeping plastic bags and films out of the environment and in the recycling stream. While we would love to Bag2Bag Logoeliminate all waste (and have in fact invested tens of millions of dollars in recycling programs), we recognize that there are times when various plastics are improperly disposed of and end up in places where they don’t belong.

At the same time, myths about plastic bag waste and litter continue to receive media and NGO (nongovernmental organization) attention that distorts our true litter problems. A perfect example where this can be seen is with marine debris. Contrary to what many people believe to be the truth, not only do plastic bags constitute a minute amount of the total overall marine litter, plastic bags are unfairly grouped with other littered items that serve as much larger threats to marine life.

BAG-2-BAG RECYCLING

To further reduce the likelihood of plastic bags becoming litter, Hilex has taken an aggressive, proactive approach to increase the amount of plastic bags that are recycled and makes recycling all plastic films convenient for consumers across the country. Through our Bag-2-Bag Recycling Program, we have distributed more than 32,000 recycling collection bins across 45 states, allowing millions of consumers to easily recycle plastic bags and wraps at grocery stores and retailers. Proving this program’s success, our recycling center in North Vernon, Ind., recycled more than 20 million pounds of bags, sacks and wraps in 2012 alone.

Bags created in our Bag-2-Bag program are made of recycled content, lower carbon emissions by 11 percent, require 20 percent less energy to produce, reduce the need for virgin material and divert millions of pounds from landfills each year through this closed-loop process. We are extremely proud that the time, money and resources we have invested in this program are paying off.

BUSTING MYTHS

We look forward to a day when the myths about plastic bag waste, including those surrounding marine debris, are recognized for what they are: myths. In the meantime, Hilex will continue to focus on solutions that make a real difference in protecting our environment. We are proud of our products, the many innovative ways people reuse them in their daily lives, and our Bag-2-Bag program which supports an effective way for consumers to recycle the plastic bags they don’t reuse – by turning them into new bags or other useful products.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

What If The Global CO2 Problem Could Be Solved By Plastics?

The headline above most likely will start many people in the plastics industry chuckling at the irony, while the irony simultaneously twists many anti-plastics activists into an uncomfortable, possibly painful, state of confusion. CO2 already is being used as raw material for producing chemicals such as methanol, salicylic acid, and urea. Could it also be used to make plastics?

Not only is the answer yes, it is happening already. A recent posting by Karen Laird on the Green Matter Blog of PlasticsToday.com is a reminder that research on using waste CO2 as a feedstock for making plastics has been underway in earnest for about five years, and more important, progress has been and is being made.CO2 molecule illustration

Progress is substantial and already is at the point that industrial production of a CO2-based polyol, one of the two reactive components of polyurethane (PUR), is scheduled to begin in 2015. Substantial may be an understatement: The initial objective of making low-reactivity CO2 react at all initially was described as the “Dream Reaction.” The sheer energy needed to make the CO2 react was immense.

Five years ago, Bayer MaterialScience and RWTH Aachen University cooperatively formed the CAT Catalytic Center with the university in Aachen, Germany, and one of its principal research programs has been carbon dioxide as an alternative building block for plastics. Laird reported that Bayer began the Dream Reaction project in 2009 to develop catalysis technology to free carbon from CO2 for use in making polyols.

A catalyst was successfully developed that worked in the lab, and the

Dream Production Project comprised of Bayer, the German energy producer RWE Power, and researchers from RWTH Aachen U. built a technical-scale pilot plant at Chempark Leverkusen that came online in February 2011.

The pilot plant is using CO2 from an RWE coal-fired power plant near Köln, Germany to produce polyol that serves as a building block for PUR flexible foam. The foam exhibits properties comparable to conventionally sourced foams, and its flame retardancy is better. And so the decision has been taken to begin industrial-scale production in 2015.

Laird’s latest blog post describes still more developments, for example moving beyond PUR to use CO2 to make building

blocks for polycarbonate (PC), another Bayer specialty, using excess solar and wind energy that otherwise would be wasted. You can find her post online, and an earlier Laird post on the same subject as well.

Ms. Laird deserves a thank-you for shining a light on a development that has had much too little visibility, yet whose environmental benefits could be immense. Could CO2, the highest volume greenhouse gas, be kept out of the environment by recycling it into useful plastics—which in turn can be kept out of the environment by recycling them? Putting irony aside, yes, it could.