Friday, September 30th, 2016

New Research: Flexible Film Packaging Can be Recycled


production of blue household  garbage plastic bags

Flexible plastic packaging- resealable bags, pouches and other items- is becoming increasingly popular. This type of packaging protects more products and often does so with a lower environmental footprint than other packaging options. However, these materials have raised questions in materials recovery facilities (MRFs) about how they can be recycled after the end of their useful life. Luckily, a new report shows that, with the right sorting techniques, it’s very possible for single-stream MRFs to find new value in these increasingly common materials.



Resource Recycling Systems (RSS) launched its initial research findings of the “Flexible Packaging Sortation at Materials Recovery Facilities” on behalf of Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) earlier this month. The project showed that automated sorting technologies in use today can be optimized to capture flexible plastic packaging—potentially creating a new stream of recovered materials while improving the quality of other recycling streams.




RSS, in collaboration with brand owners and other trade associations on the project, including SPI: The Plastics Industry Association, conducted research trials that included baseline testing, equipment testing and other MRF sorting technologies like screens and optical scanners. This is only the first phase, however; future research will focus on further refinements to sorting technology, economic feasibility, assessing end-use markets for the material and developing a recovery facility demonstration project.


A few key findings:bag-chips

  • 88% of the flexible material by weight flowed with the fiber streams (defined as old newspaper (ONP) and mixed paper), making it feasible to capture the majority of the material.
  • Optical sorters correctly sorted 43% of seeded flexible plastic packaging by weight.
  • Once calibrated properly, optical sorting technologies were able to successfully separate over 90% (by weight) of the seeded flexible plastic packaging from fiber.



To access the full report, click here.



Friday, September 23rd, 2016

The FLiP Files: Jennifer Cioffi

The FLiP Files is a blog series spotlighting young professionals that are active in SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a group for plastics professionals under the age of 40.  For our next FLiP File, we spoke to FLiP member Jennifer Cioffi of Jarden Home Brands.


-Where do you work and what’s your title? I’m the product compliance manager for Jarden Home Brands, a subsidiary of Newell Brands.

-Tell us a little about what your company does.

Newell Brands is a global consumer goods company with a portfolio of well-known brands, including Paper Mate®, Sha​rpie®, Coleman®, Oster®, Sunbeam®, Graco®, Calphalon®, Rubbermaid®, Goody® and Yankee Candle® to name a few!

-How did you find yourself working in the plastics industry?

When I graduated college, I was offered an opportunity to work in business development for a global consulting firm. My first exposure to plastics was working with companies that were seeking regulatory support in complying with global plastics regulations. I immediately knew that my passion was in ensuring that companies manufactured safe and compliant products.

-Has anyone in the industry mentored you? Absolutely—I’ve been fortunate to learn from a number of individuals in the additives and plastics industries. The best part has been learning about the history of plastics and how technology and the manufacturing of plastics have progressed over the last 50 years.

-Describe in one sentence what you do on an average day. A typical day for me consists of conducting regulatory evaluations of our products and developing compliance strategies, test protocols and certifications to ensure that our products meet all applicable regulatory requirements.

-What do you like most about working in the plastics industry? Definitely the innovation! Plastics are used in everything from food packaging to surgical devices. The versatility of plastics is something that amazes me and keeps me passionate about working in the industry.

-What’s one thing about your personal life that you feel has been changed by having a career in plastics? Plastics has become a common conversation topic in my household! Whether we’re taking about migration, safe-use, or recyclability, I enjoy educating family and friends about plastics.

-What are the major challenges you think are facing the plastics industry today? How do you think the industry can overcome them? One of the biggest challenges has to be mitigating the negative public perception of plastics. Many times a random blog post will go up which causes consumers to panic about the safety of plastics. The industry can overcome these challenges by continuing to educate consumers and by working with agencies to support the development of industry and consumer education.

-Why do you think someone from your generation should consider a career in plastics? Plastics are here for the long haul! When it comes to plastics, you’re always learning! There are so many career paths in plastics, whether it be in compliance, manufacturing, medical applications or active/intelligent packaging, the opportunities are endless!

-What’s one plastic product you couldn’t live without? My coffeemaker!

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Hear about the Benefits of Pursuing Zero Net Waste from SPI’s First-Ever Zero Net Waste-Designated Company

ZNWLogoWhen The Minco Group and its All Service Plastic Molding (ASPM) subsidiary set out to achieve Zero Net Waste using SPI’s program, it couldn’t have known how it would impact its operations, or its bottom line. But Minco Program Manager Andy Brewer, with the support of Vice President Dan Norris, organized and led a company Green Team which implemented the program and started monitoring their progress.

The numbers don’t lie.

Since putting the Zero Net Waste program’s tools and resources to use in their facility, ASPM has:

  • Diverted 88 percent of their total manufacturing waste away from the landfill.
  • Organized a 24-hour sort of ASPM waste.
  • Categorized their waste materials into 26 categories.
  • Decreased landfill-bound waste weights by 46 percent.
  • Projected a revenue increase of approximately $20,000 for 2017, based on their enhanced recycling efforts.

These aren’t the only benefits the company recognized by pursuing Zero Net Waste. SPI also named The Minco Group the first company to ever achieve its Zero Net Waste designation, which announces to the industry, and to the world at large, that the company has successfully taken steps to eliminate waste in plastics manufacturing in its facilities.


Minco’s Andy Brewer

The first steps, according to Brewer, were getting involved, getting buy-in, and building a team. “I’ve been working with [SPI’s Senior Director of Recycling & Diversion] Kim Holmes’ Recycling Committee and knew that my company was capable of doing our part to make the industry more sustainable,” said Brewer. “I was able to get buy-in from my colleagues by organizing a 24-hour sort in which they learned about all of the many recyclable materials we send to the landfill, in error, every day. From there, our Green Team, which manages our recycling efforts, was born.”

Brewer will lead an upcoming webinar to discuss the other benefits beyond projected revenue increases that he and his company have experience since they set about eliminating waste from their facilities. Register here and learn how your company can engage its employees and help the environment all while enhancing its bottom line through the Zero Net Waste program.

Friday, August 19th, 2016

A New Study May Make Conversations about Plastics Easier


Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division

A guest post by Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division.

Has this happened to you? You’re at a dinner party or family gathering or neighborhood get-together. Someone asks you what you do. A conversation about plastics ensues. And you struggle to find a really simple way to explain plastics’ many benefits and contributions to sustainability.

I’m guessing we’ve all been there.  And the answer just got easier to explain.

New study

A new study by the environmental consulting firm Trucost uses “natural capital accounting” methods that measure and value environmental impacts, such as consumption of water and emissions to air, land, and water. The authors describe it as the largest natural capital cost study ever conducted for the plastics manufacturing sector.

The results?  “Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs, and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement,” finds that the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer goods and packaging is nearly four times less than if plastics were replaced with alternative materials.

Trucost found that replacing plastics with alternatives would increase environmental costs associated with consumer goods from $139 billion to $533 billion annually.

Why is that? Predominantly because strong, lightweight plastics help us do more with less material, which provides environmental benefits throughout the lifecycle of plastic products and packaging. While the environmental costs of alternative materials can be slightly lower per ton of production, they are greater in aggregate due to the much larger quantities of material needed to fulfill the same purposes as plastics.

Think about it. Every day, strong, lightweight plastics allow us to ship more product with less packaging, enable our vehicles to travel further on a gallon of gas, and extend the shelf-life of healthful foods and beverages. And all of these things help reduce energy use, carbon emissions, and waste.

Why do this study?

This new study follows an earlier report called “Valuing Plastics (2014)” that Trucost conducted for the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP). “Valuing Plastics” was Trucost’s first examination of environmental cost of using plastics. While clearly an important study, it begged the key question: compared to what? After all, consumer goods need to be made out of something.

So ACC’s Plastics Division commissioned Trucost to compare the environmental costs of using plastics to alternative materials, as well as to identify opportunities to help plastics makers lower the environmental costs of using plastics. The expanded study also broadened the scope of the earlier work to include use and transportation, thus providing a more complete picture of the full life cycle of products and packaging.

We see “Plastics and Sustainability” as a contribution to the burgeoning and vital global discussion on sustainability. Like any single study, it doesn’t “prove” that plastics are always better for the environment than alternatives. But it is an important study based on a rigorous and transparent methodology. And it provides a fuller picture of the environmental benefits of using plastics.

“Plastics and Sustainability” provides the plastics value chain with important information on plastics and sustainability so that we all can make better decisions. The entire plastics value chain is engaged in discussions with policymakers, brand owners, retailers, recyclers – and consumers – about how to be good corporate citizens and contribute to sustainability. A better understanding of the life cycle of materials will better inform these discussions and should lead all of us to more sustainable materials management decisions. This study’s findings also will help inform us how to further reduce the environmental cost of plastics.

In other words, making smart choices about what we produce and how we produce it will benefit people and the planet.

New perspective

So in light of this new study, next time you or I struggle for the right words, perhaps let’s try this:

“Did you know that replacing plastics with alternatives would actually increase environmental costs by nearly four times?”

Let me know how it goes.

You can find more information about the Trucost study and some interesting visualizations of the findings here.

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Is Your Product Industrially Compostable?



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.




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 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.