Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Future of Plastics: The Material of Choice for Lightweight, Fuel-Efficient Automobiles

Third Largest Manufacturing Sector Poised to Meet Growing Demand for its Innovative Products

In our report “Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane,” SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association discusses an anticipated increased use of plastics in automobiles as consumers and the government demand lighter vehicles that are more environmentally friendly and competitively priced. The plastics manufacturing industry is well-positioned to meet the potential demand of the automobile industry due to technological advances driving a more sophisticated, growing manufacturing sector.

The plastics industry, which is the third largest sector of U.S. manufacturing in dollar value of shipments, is in the vanguard of innovation and nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the automotive/transportation industry. While plastics make up about 50 percent of a modern automobile’s volume, they only account for about 10 percent of its weight.

The use of plastics in lightweighting vehicles has proven to be a cost-effective way to help boost vehicle mileage for decades, a trend not expected to change as the Obama Administration has raised the average fuel efficiency standards of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, according to the report.plasticsmarketwatch_auto_cover

Plastics can play a critical role in enabling automakers to meet the standards. And given the inherent advantages that plastics represent compared to other alternative materials, it is extremely likely that the transportation choices of the future will use more plastic, not less.

A glance inside any modern car or truck shows the interior compartment to be dominated by plastics – from instrument panels to interior trim to upholstery. Plastics are also used in lighting, bumper systems, fuel storage and delivery systems, ducts, fenders and exterior body panels, and more and more within engine compartments or other under-the-hood components.  Likewise, the composition of aircraft, passenger trains and urban metro vehicles continues to evolve toward greater dependence on plastics.

SPI notes that consumption of plastic goods grew at a record-breaking pace in 2014 (the latest government statistics available) to $298.3 billion, up 11.5 percent from $267.3 billion in 2013. As the automotive sector relies more on plastic to replace metal parts, the increased use of 3D printing will pave the way for more innovative applications of plastic.

Impact of Millennials

Other research in the report is based upon the work of Ken Gronbach, a marketing expert and author who studies demographic and cultural trends to predict buying habits. His research shows that the Millennial Generation (born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) has “no great love affair with the automobile and when asked what they would give up first, their car or their phone, their answer is almost always unanimous – their car.”

Like generations before, the Millennials don’t seem to resemble their predecessors in that they’re slow to get married, have children – and to obtain their driver’s licenses. Perhaps they’re late bloomers – due to the economy and their heavy college loans. Whatever the case, experts agree that sooner or later they’ll come around and buy vehicles. And, since the Millennials tend to be more environmentally conscious than previous generations, it is expected that they will demand lighter, more energy efficient vehicles.

The only downside to the increased demand is the shortage of skilled talent. “New manufacturing jobs are significantly different from the rote assembly line work of earlier generations. Manufacturing is built upon advanced technologies that demand more advanced skills from workers. Employees must be able to grasp engineering concepts, work with computers, make mathematical calculations and adapt to constant change. A manufacturing worker today must have the equivalent of two years of college, usually more, and the bar keeps rising.

Manufacturing is critical to a healthy economy. Our goal should be to dominate high end manufacturing that reflects emerging technologies that are frequently found in the more advanced plastic processors in the U.S.

The report attributes the workforce shortage to Baby Boomers retiring and the trend toward off-shoring that resulted in more young people seeking a four-year degree rather entering trade school. The skills gap afflicting all of manufacturing in the U.S. is equally if not more applicable to the plastics industry. Already, many individual companies are working with local schools to make young people aware of the exciting opportunities that abound in plastics and the basic skills and knowledge they need to take advantage of them.

It is incumbent upon people in the industry to take the initiative, study what other companies are doing, recognize the learning differences of the next generation, and become actively involved in promoting plastics manufacturing as a career choice – and as the product choice!

“Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane” is the first in a series of unique reports being written by SPI. Later this year, staff will publish reports on healthcare, packaging, and housing and construction.

 

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

A Simple Shift in Shipping Regulations Could Net the American Economy $27 Billion in Annual Savings

Truck in portThe shipping economy operates adjacent to the manufacturing economy, and increased efficiency in either can often yield benefits in both. The advent of plastic materials decades ago enabled trucks to carry more products for longer, all while using only a fraction of the fuel because of the lightness of plastic materials.

That’s just one example, and the industries have traded innovations back and forth for decades. Most recently, however, a new industry group comprised of some of the biggest names in the shipping world is doing its best to save manufacturers money. The Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking (CERT) counts Conway, Estes Express Lines, and UPS as members, among several others. The group has only one goal: a five-foot increase in the maximum length of trailers used in double configurations, from 28 feet, to 33 feet.

The idea is elegant in its simplicity, but could still have wide-ranging effects on a multitude of sectors. According to CERT, under the current 28-foot limit, trucks routinely “cube out before they gross out,” which is to say they fill all of their available volume long before they brush up against the 80,000 lbs. gross weight limit. This, simply put, makes shipping much less efficient, and saddles businesses with $27 billion per year in avoidable, additional shipping costs. Congressional authorization to extend the trailer length to 33 feet could put those costs back in the pockets’ of companies and consumers.

It’s a practical solution arriving at just the right time for the shipping economy and those industries that depend on it. “Every year, millions of tons in goods are sent across roads in shipments that don’t quite fit in a 28-ft. trailer, but aren’t nearly enough to require a full 48-ft. or 53-ft. trailer,” CERT says in a fact sheet. “As a result, more than 6.6 million avoidable truck trips occur every year. This inefficiency is only expected to worsen: over the next decade, less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments will grow from 145 million tons to an estimated 204.6 million tons.” Before that happens, however, CERT, SPI and its other industry partners are hoping Congress authorizes the five-foot extension.

More than just reducing inefficiencies and putting $27 billion back into the economy, CERT’s suggested legislative fix will also yield significant environmental benefits. By eliminating those 6.6 million unnecessary truck trips that currently happen each year because of the currently outdated regulations, extending the length of the trucks would result in 204 million fewer gallons of fuel being used by trucks, and reduce carbon emissions by 4.4 billion pounds per year.

If you need any more reason to support CERT, on their website they note that their simple suggested legislative change would eliminate 1.3 billion miles in truck traffic nationwide, making the 42 percent of the nation’s highways that are congested much clearer, and preventing 912 crashes annually.

SPI supports CERT’s plan and stands behind their efforts. The entire $375-billion plastics industry stands behind them and looks forward to repaying the favor through innovation.

Monday, October 6th, 2014

SPI Supports APBA Referendum on California SB 270

By William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

As I mentioned last week in my comments at the 2014 Global Plastics Summit, California recently enacted SB 270, the nation’s only statewide plastic bag ban. SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association always has and always will advocate for science and fact-based legislation, but SB 270 does not fit this description. In a press release issued last Tuesday, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) announced it would take the steps necessary to gather signatures and qualify a referendum to repeal it:

“The approval of SB 270 by the California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown could serve as a case study for what happens when greedy special interests and bad government collide in the policymaking process. 

“Senator Padilla’s bill was never legislation about the environment. It was a back room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars without providing any public benefit—all under the guise of environmentalism. If this law were allowed to go into effect it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets.”

SPI supports the APBA in opposing SB 270 and seeking a referendum. We do not believe that in passing SB 270 California lawmakers acted in the public interest, and we trust that the public will repeal it at the ballot box.

Plastic bags are the smartest, most environmentally-friendly choice at the checkout counter. Ninety percent (90%) of Americans reuse their plastic bags as trashcan liners, pet waste bags, lunch bags, etc., despite the fact that SB 270’s proponents have attempted to brand plastic bags as “single-use.” This is a myth that’s disproven every day in homes across America. When plastic bags outlive their usefulness, they can be recycled: they are 100% recyclable and can be converted into building materials like decking, fencing and playground equipment. Moreover, they consume less than 4% of the water, generate less than 80% of the waste and require less than 70% of the energy necessary to manufacture their paper counterparts. In addition, consumers will be forced to pay at least 10 cents for every paper bag they purchase.

As for the bags that are oil-derived and made in China, which SB 270’s proponents promote, most are made from nonwoven polypropylene, which isn’t recyclable. In addition, cotton grocery bags must be used 131 times before their contribution to global climate change becomes lower than that of a plastic bag used just once. These bags also have been found to contain toxic lead and harbor harmful bacteria.

Further, plastic bags make up less than two percent (2%) of California’s municipal waste stream and just fourth-tenths of a percent (0.4%) of the overall American waste stream. Thus the bill’s environmental impact will be negligible if not nonexistent. Proponents have been forced to acknowledge this, choosing instead to label SB 270 “a good start.” For them, plastic bags are just the beginning, and plastic bottles, cutlery and other materials are now in their crosshairs.

apba logo_2012That is the issue at hand. The lack of science or logic in SB 270 sets a disconcerting precedent for what legislators could do under the guise of environmental stewardship. This should concern the plastics industry at large: unscientific bills supported by special interests could encourage bans on other plastic products. This must be the beginning of a discussion that plastics recyclers, suppliers, manufacturers and processors have about the future of the industry. The APBA has started this conversation, and we hope the entire plastics supply chain chooses to be a part of it.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

USGBC Recognizes Plastics Industry Concerns that LEED v4 Promotes Product De-Selection – Conversation is a Good Thing, Results are Better

By Terry Peters, CAE, SPI Senior Director, Technical and Industry Affairs

There are moments in time where science and logic may prevail. The Aug. 27, 2014, press release – U.S. Green Building Council and American Chemistry Council to Work Together to Advance LEED – could be a harbinger of great things for LEED and our industry. The release announces “a new initiative designed to ensure the use of sustainable and environmentally protective products in building by applying the technical and science-based approaches to the LEED green building program. This new initiative acknowledges USGBC’s success in leading the transformation of the building environment and sets up a pathway to take advantage of the materials science expertise of ACC and its members.”   ACC logo

We applaud USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) and ACC (American Chemistry Council) for crafting this agreement in principal.  As active members of the American High Performance Building Coalition (the collaborative of 41 organizations working with ACC), SPI is justifiably proud of this announcement and pleased that several years of intense work with Congress and federal agencies have encouraged USGBC to come to this place.

SPI has been a longtime member of USGBC and stands by previous statements supporting the higher goals of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Over the years we’ve considered ourselves the loyal, if strident, opposition to the materials credits issue. Through the American High Performance Building Coalition (AHPBC) and the Flexible Vinyl Alliance, we have pressured for change.  At our invitation, Brendan Owens, LEED’s vice president, technical, has presented to our Fluoropolymer and Flexible Vinyl Division meetings about a half dozen times and heard our issues and concerns repeatedly stated.

This is beginning the discussions; nothing is yet agreed that addresses our long standing issues on material credits.  There are entrenched opinions and territories. But we are in a better place for this attempt to work together. Let us suspend our skepticism for a moment and look to the good that may come from this announcement.

LEED is the most used green building standards globally, as well as in the United States where more than 400 cities and communities, 39 states and 14 federal agencies currently require builders to meet LEED standards. That is why the plastics industry and other manufacturing associations are working diligently to get the USGBC to modify some portions of LEED, and also why they applaud some of the improvements in LEED v4.

For example, LEED v4 is pioneering the use of verified life cycle assessment data to determine the environmental impacts of products. As such, there will be a new credit when manufacturers provide Environmental Product Declarations or third-party verified life cycle assessments for their products. There also will be credits for buildings that exceed the established ASHRAE 90.1 standard for energy efficiency by 5 percent and 10 percent.

That is a perfect way of incentivizing builders to reach those levels because it allows you as a designer or builder to choose the material that works best. It doesn’t tell you to use fiberglass or foam, or what not to use. The energy chapter of LEED is an excellent chapter. It is performance-based and material-neutral.

Since it was formed two years ago, the AHPBC has consistently argued that USGBC has developed its LEED standards with a disregard for science, without involving industry and without using a consensus-based approach as is done by organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

LEED has helped make buildings more energy- and resource-efficient. But the latest version disparages and discriminates against vinyl and other materials. As pointed out by my colleagues at The Vinyl Institute, “USGBC’s own Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee examined the environmental impacts of PVC and other materials and concluded that credits to encourage avoidance of any material could lead to use of less-desirable products. Unfortunately, USGBC utterly ignored its own scientific conclusions in LEED v4.”

SPI agrees. This material discrimination should be eliminated. The best materials should be judged by application. We hope this overture of partnership, applying our real world material science to the aspirations of LEED, can work.

Thank you, USGBC.  Now, let’s get to work.

Friday, September 5th, 2014

The California Bag Ban and a Lesson on How Not to Legislate

By Lee Califf, Executive Director, American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA)

The California State Senate approved SB 270 last week, sending a fee on paper bags and the nation’s first statewide ban of plastic bags to Governor Jerry Brown (D) for consideration. Several environmental groups have all but danced in the streets to celebrate the bill’s advance, despite the fact that:

  • plastic bags comprise less than a half of a percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream and banning them will have little, if any, effect on reducing litter;
  • plastic bag production generates 80 percent less waste and requires 70 percent less energy to manufacture than paper counterparts; and
  • plastic retail bags are 100 percent recyclable, reusable and made with American natural gas, an environmentally-friendlier alternative to other fossil fuels.

But each of these facts obscures a bigger point about the legislative process that brought SB 270 to Governor Brown’s desk: this so-called “environmental” legislation never had anything to do with the environment.

The Bag “Bargain”

In the process of making environmental policy choices, it often doesn’t take long for the discussion to veer away from the scientific and toward the emotional. Broad considerations for the planet’s future touch deep ideological nerves, so this makes sense, but it can often stifle conversations about actual science, as well as the real environmental ramifications of the policy proposal.apba logo_2012

Recognizing this, proponents of SB 270 decided never to entertain the very good environmentally-friendly reasons to vote against the bill, some of which are outlined above, but instead stood on the assumed truths that have similarly derailed so many other policy discussions. Furthermore, money spoke louder than environmental imperatives or the supposedly inherent evil of plastics, as supporters of the bill made grocers and unions an offer they couldn’t refuse: support SB 270 and we’ll direct the fees collected from the paper bags to you.

The Future

The bill’s lack of real environmental bona fides, along with its enactment via back-room deal, should lead anyone to scoff at the suggestion that SB 270’s success will somehow amount to a win, for any constituency, environmentally-focused or otherwise. For them it’s a symbolic victory, and while they’re celebrating the nation’s only statewide bag ban, all the baggage that comes with this deal isn’t commendable.

In many ways, the bill effectively scams consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees. It’s a tax, of sorts, but typically taxes go back into state coffers to further benefit the public. In SB 270’s case, the fees collected from consumers won’t be used to pay for a road, a fire truck, a better school or even a marginal environmental benefit; they’ll be used to line the pockets of California grocers.

California has created a prime example of how not to legislate (fleecing consumers and damaging the state economy, all in the name of an imaginary environmental benefit), and other states might not be too eager to follow in California’s footsteps for that very reason, as well as some additional legal concerns. Most states probably won’t be willing to put this kind of fee on bags and give the money to grocery stores, and even if they were willing to do so there are some serious constitutionality questions about that. In effect it’s a tax that’s not going to the government. The private interest gets the money.

But on a more basic level, most states also wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, want to enact a tax on their citizens that essentially amounts to a form of corporate welfare for grocers, all while threatening the state’s economy. SB 270 puts 2,000 Californians that are employed at risk of being unemployed, all for the sake of a dirty deal between California grocers and union bosses. APBA stands with those workers, and with all Californians, as we continue to fight this dangerous and misguided piece of legislation.