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.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

SPI Member Phoenix Technologies Seeks to Move Forward by Integrating Upstream

A photo of Phoenix's new wash line.

A photo of Phoenix’s new wash line.

Vertical integration as a business strategy has always been risky, a fact never more thoroughly illustrated than when Apple upset the natural order of the computing industry in the late 1970s by churning out units more efficiently than its competitors by using a host of independent contractors, rather than its own vertically-integrated production line.

Plastics isn’t necessarily the computing industry, and the world that Apple revolutionized was different than the world of today. Vertical integration still can present business risks to companies as an expansion strategy, but the plastics supply chain continues to be driven by the needs downstream, which is to say, driven by their brand owner customers.

Brand owners are looking for improved product quality, and a lower carbon footprint. To meet those needs, plastics companies are looking for greater control over their supply chain, hoping to make the changes necessary to meet customer expectations, whether they’re for product quality or for more sustainable and efficient manufacturing attributes. Vertical integration can offer them that control.

Case in point: SPI Member and SPI Recycling Committee Executive Member Phoenix Technologies International, a leading producer of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), recently announced an $18 million expansion to enable upstream production integration—the company will add a new proprietary wash line, partially replacing its need to engage a third-party wash operation to create clean flake. Previously, Phoenix typically either purchased clean flake directly or sourced it from baled bottles which have been reclaimed from curbside collection, and then engaged another company to wash it. With the new line, they can skip that last step, allowing them to take the dirty PET, wash it into clean PET flake, and recycle it into rPET.

“Combining the total supply chain, from bale to final pellet, and its processes, will allow us to optimize both the wash and flake processing components in ways that we could not when clean flake was coming from external sources,” said Phoenix President Bob Deardurff in a press release. “The new wash line also will enable Phoenix to fine-tune critical manufacturing variables so that we can better deliver processing and performance attributes of value to our customers.”

An added benefit, one that speaks directly to the demands brand owners, is that by adding its own wash line, Phoenix will be better able to manage its own environmental footprint, specifically by allowing the company to determine how much water it uses in the wash process and reduce the amount of fuel that’s used to transport materials from one location, to a third-party provider, and back again. The new line will be located in close proximity to Phoenix’s existing manufacturing plant, helping them reduce carbon emissions intrinsic in their production process. Phoenix already uses less energy per pound to manufacture rPET when compared to virgin PET; the new line further contributes to a reduction in their environmental footprint.

Again, what this integration grants Phoenix is more control over the production process, which in turn translates into a better, more rapid and ultimately more profitable response to the sustainability and product quality demands of brand owners. When the wash line becomes operational, they’ll be able to control another aspect of their business and scale it in such a way that it decreases their environmental impact while maintaining, or even enhancing, service delivery and product quality.

In short, Phoenix in many ways is reacting to a brand owner need by integrating upstream. It’s trite but, as brand owners continue to tell the plastics supply chain to jump, vertical integration seems like a uniquely appropriate response.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Student Perspectives on Plastic Film and Bag Recycling from the SPI/JASON Learning “Think Outside the Bag!” Contest

JASONLogoOf all the excellent material in the more than 100 entries received as part of SPI and JASON Learning’s recently-concluded “Think Outside the Bag!” contest, the “What We Learned” or “Challenges We Faced” slide (or some variant thereof) that was included in each of the submitted presentations might be the most illuminating for the plastics industry at large.

Hosted by SPI’s Flexible Film and Bag Division, the “Think Outside the Bag!” competition challenged young people to get creative by designing a poster and a public awareness campaign that aimed to get their fellow students, schools and communities involved in collecting and recycling plastic bags and other flexible plastic film products. It also asked participating students to discuss what they learned in the process, and to identify the challenges they faced in trying to get people to recycle their plastic films and bags. Across the three participating grade bands (K-4, 5-8, 9-12) some similar insights and challenges kept coming up.spi_logo_2000x1007

“The people we knew were most supportive.”

The wisdom of the “Think Globally, Act Locally” mantra proved itself once again in the “Think Outside the Bag!” contest, as most participants found the most support closest to home. Whether it was their classmates, their parents, their friends or whomever, most entries found reaching out and asking the people they knew to help out to be a simple, effective start. It’s a testament to the power of starting locally, and also a testament to how infectious the recycling mentality can be. All it takes is one ardent recycler to turn the residents of an entire household into advocates, and that’s a powerful thing to remember.

“We found out that most plastic films are from things that we do not expect like bread bags or newspaper bags or even the container around salad.”

Participating students learned a great deal about plastics from the contest, most notably the fact that bags aren’t the only plastic films that are recyclable. Of the students that knew bags were recyclable, it seemed that not as many of them knew that food and product wrapping and other items fell into the same category.

Recycled plastic bags image“It wasn’t as easy as we thought to convince some people that recycling plastic bags is important.”

Most of the participating students cited concern for the environment as a major reason why they felt plastic film and bag recycling was such a worthy cause. Nonetheless, getting people on board with how vital the recycling process is wasn’t as simple a process as some students hoped or expected. Many of the entries relied on their poster to make their environmental message as clearly as possible, and aimed to inspire people to think about their use of plastic films and bags in order to reduce litter and make a meaningful impact on the environment.

“After some brainstorming we started presenting the poster to our families, showing them the process and specifically that plastic bags and plastic film COULD be recycled.”

Not-so-simply put, it’s hard to get people to recycle something when they don’t know that the thing you want them to recycle is recyclable.

The most basic, fundamental challenge that students encountered that could be keeping plastic film and bag recycling rates mired around 12 percent is the fact that, across the country, a lot of people still don’t think plastic bags or films are even recyclable. More than 90 percent of the nation has access to plastic film and bag recycling (most commonly through a retail take-back program), but this myth still exists.

Having to essentially educate fellow students, friends, family and community members and business leaders about the recyclability of these materials was a common refrain in terms of the biggest hurdles the students faced in their efforts, with some participants saying that conducting their campaign was a two-step process: first they had to get the hang of teaching people, then they had to actually present their awareness campaign.

In short, the students had to educate themselves before they educated their families and friends, and once they did it seemed that simply knowing that plastic films and bags were recyclable went a long way toward getting someone to actually change their behavior, and go through the process of recycling these materials.

See the winning entries on SPI’s website here and JASON’s website here.

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.