Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Plastic Trade Groups Teach Kids the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many legislators and policymakers across the country are justifiably concerned about litter, but have been led to believe that plastic bags are a major part of the problem. They’re not. The reality is that plastic bags make up just 0.4 percent (0.4%) of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the EPA, and traditionally are less than one percent (1%) of litter.Plastic-Bags-Closeup-260w

We as a society must have an honest conversation about litter and its reduction, but that conversation needs to be both grounded in facts and science and focused on meaningful solutions. So, when policymakers consider plastic bag bans and taxes, they should (1) be aware of just how little of the country’s litter is actually made up of plastic bags, and (2) understand that local governmental resources would be better spent elsewhere. This includes supporting broader litter education campaigns focused on changing people’s behavior instead of eliminating useful products and valuable resources.

That’s why SPI and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) support several different organizations in order to help drive the nation’s first widespread litter reduction initiative since the 1980s. A number of different programs already operate in this space. Earlier this fall, for instance, SPI partnered with JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by Sea Research Foundation, Inc., and the National Geographic Society to launch the “Think Outside the Bag!” plastic film recycling contest, which asks students to create creative public awareness campaigns about flexible film and bag recycling. Not many people know to recycle these materials and therefore dispose of them in garbage bins, where they’re eventually lost to the landfill.  Through partnerships like this one, however, SPI and JASON Learning are teaching environmentally responsible behavior to the next generation of American recyclers and empowering them to educate others so that none of this material ever is wasted.

apba logo_2012In addition, the APBA strongly supports the efforts of A Bag’s Life, a public education campaign that unites nonprofits, business, community and government organizations to raise awareness regarding and make it easier for more people to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bags.  A Bag’s Life just launched its second-annual plastic bag collection and recycling contest in the Galveston Independent School District (GISD) on November 14, 2014, in honor of America Recycles Day. Last year this successful recycling competition resulted in the collection of over 350,000 plastic bags, and this year the number of participating schools has nearly doubled. Supported by Clean Galveston and Trex, this initiative gives students and their communities until Earth Day 2015 to make a positive environmental change. The two schools with the most recycled bags per capita will win products made from recycled plastic materials and provided by Trex.spi_logo_300x151

Initiatives like this are meaningful, long-term solutions to our nation’s litter problem. Plastic bag bans and taxes are not. SPI and the APBA look forward to working together with the aforementioned organizations, and others, trying to make a real impact on litter through recycling and recycling education.

Friday, November 7th, 2014

NYC Should Abandon Regressive Bag Tax, Join SPI, APBA to Fight Litter

Given the sky-high cost of living in New York, among the highest in the country, the average consumer doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. This is particularly true in the outer boroughs, which are home to some of the poorest congressional districts in the country. So it’s disappointing that the Big Apple is the latest metropolis to contemplate misguided legislation to tax plastic grocery bags in an attempt to address litter.

Recycled plastic bags imagePlastic bag taxes are inherently regressive, doing the most damage to the people who can least afford it. Supporters often cry that these taxes are minimal and the average citizen buying groceries should be able to afford them, but in a city where 1 in 5 people lives below the poverty line, that’s naïve, insensitive and presumptuous; these taxes can be crippling for those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, who simply are doing their best to put food on the table for their families.

Moreover, New York City (NYC) has a higher percentage of non-car owning citizens than any other city in America, making plastic bags a logical and convenient choice for the city’s many residents, who get by riding buses, taking trains and walking. The plastic bag’s popularity with urban dwellers stretches back to its origins in the mid-1960s, when suburban dwellers preferred paper bags that could stand up in the trunks of their cars. Urbanites opted for plastic bags instead, since they have handles, are lighter, can hold 1000 times their weight and are reused. New Yorkers should be allowed to continue to enjoy these benefits without having to pay for the privilege.

The market economics of NYC’s grocery stores also are uniquely suited to include plastic bags, as the city isn’t dotted with big chain establishments but with tiny, owner-operated bodegas, delis, multipurpose shops and other small businesses. A bag tax could squeeze local store owners as much as it squeezes average New Yorkers.

The fact is that supporters of the NYC bag tax are misguided in their attempts to control litter. The issue here is not material; it is behavioral. Plastic bags can and should be recycled. It’s been nearly two decades since we, as a country, had an honest conversation about litter or took the time to educate and empower the next generations of schoolchildren about how to properly dispose of and recycle everything that can be recycled.spi_logo_300x151

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) share NYC’s concern about litter, and we are ready to have a conversation about how we can eliminate it and close the loop on plastic materials. Recycled materials of all types are valuable to innovators and businessmen and good for businesses, communities and the environment. We oppose bag taxes, which are a regressive, counterproductive and intellectually lazy response to a community and environmental issue that cries out for bold action and long-term commitment.apba logo_2012

We must educate and empower our young people to make a difference. That’s why SPI recently teamed up with JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by the Sea Research Foundation, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, to launch the “Think Outside the Bag!” plastic film and bag recycling contest. By asking students to come up with creative campaigns to increase awareness about recycling flexible plastic films (i.e. dry cleaner bags), product wrapping and traditional plastic grocery bags, the contest aims to make today’s youth tomorrow’s plastic recycling and anti-litter advocates. The APBA also supports A Bag’s Life, a program that helps kids and their communities learn more about recycling plastic bags while giving them the tools they need to host their own recycling events across the country.

Rather than cynically working to reduce consumer access to materials that are convenient and environmentally friendly but arbitrarily declared undesirable, we’re working to build a lasting solution to the problem of litter by helping change consumer behavior now and in the future. The plastics industry, led by SPI and the APBA, is moving the needle on recycling and reducing litter, and we won’t stop until every plastic bag is reused or recovered and every piece of litter eliminated. Instead of merely trying to tax its way out of this problem, NYC can be the leader it always has been and join us in challenging its residents to help put an end to litter once and for all.

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

As Manufacturing Renaissance Continues, Hackers Take Note

SPI continues to fight the misconception of manufacturing as a dated, old-fashioned industry, an image of the sector that’s as potent as it is false. But unfortunately for many manufacturers, there’s at least one constituency that’s become fully aware of the technological complexity and inherent value contained within the modern factory: hackers.

When guessing what industry is most frequently targeted by hackers, most people would probably guess banking or financial services, and that might be close, PackExpoMainbut it’d also be wrong. “Manufacturing is the most hacked industry right now,” said Doug Bellin of Cisco, delivering a presentation on the Internet of Things in the Center for Trends & Technology at this year’s PACK Expo. Citing a report published in the Wall Street Journal, Bellin said that 75% of all major manufacturing companies had admitted to being hacked at some point, but noted that he felt the problem was in all likelihood much worse. “There’s a key word in that statistic: ‘admit,’” he said. “The number is probably closer to 100%.”

Security has become paramount for all manufacturers as they’ve become more technologically advanced and adopted “Internet of Things” philosophies that aim to find value in a form of intra-organizational connectedness that goes beyond mere machine-to-machine communication to include items like marketing, human resources and health and safety management, among others.

“Three years ago if I said ‘security’ no one would care, but security now is key to anything that we say,” Bellin said. “Previously manufacturing had security by obscurity because it wasn’t connected. The door wasn’t open. Now you’re saying you need to have the connectivity because you’re going to see value from that,” he added, noting that efforts to facilitate this sort of value-driven connectivity between a company’s systems can amount to a doubling of critical infrastructure, which in turn increases entry points for hackers who in many ways have come to replace intellectual property (IP) thieves. “It’s no longer about IP theft,” Bellin said. “They don’t steal the plans. They use information from the PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and they reverse engineer the code on there to create the same thing.”

Nonetheless, preventing attacks like this isn’t hopeless and the benefits of interconnectivity can often yield immensely positive results, so long as the company in question remains continually diligent about its safeguards. “What scares people is that, in theory, this is now on the internet, ensuring that you can get to the data,” Bellin added. “But security’s not something you implement once and it’s done.”

As the manufacturer maintains and constantly stays on top of its security procedures, however, applying the concept of connectivity can help address many manufacturers most seemingly intractable problems, leading to increased efficiency, increased customer satisfaction and even increased employee loyalty and better hiring and retention practices. Bellin noted that, in many ways, manufacturing as an industry is aging, and that fewer young people are entering to take their place, but that the reasons and realities behind this phenomenon can be put to use as valuable pieces of intelligence in order to keep that process moving forward, ensuring that the older employees’ knowledge and experience are being used to their fullest and that the new people entering the company are able to learn and grow as well.

In a way the advent of big data allows manufacturers to apply older philosophies to plant optimization on an organization-wide basis, to their and their customers’ benefit. “The reality is that manufacturing has been doing sensors for a long time. The problem was they weren’t connected and you had islands of information out there,” Bellin said. “Now just getting to the data isn’t enough. You need to add a layer of intelligence.”

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

SPI: EPS Foam Can Be Recycled, Easily and Profitably

SPI and its Recycling Committee are, once again, out to correct another misconception about plastics.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), the kind that’s found in coolers, in takeout food packaging, in shipped cardboard boxes filled with packaging peanuts and in many other contexts, is a material that’s widely misunderstood and, in more than one corner of the consumer world, mistakenly thought to be unrecyclable.

“EPS serves many important roles in our lives,” said the SPI Recycling Committee in a new paper, titled “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery.” “It insulates. It protects. It has a fraction of the environmental impact in the full life cycle compared to other non-resin alternatives. The greatest challenge for this material at end-of-life is, however, also a symptom of its best feature; it is light, creating a unique set of challenges for collection and processing.” However, as the paper outlines, when paired with the right technology solutions, these challenges are easily overcome.

Dart Container’s PS foam recycling support includes collection/shipping containers.

In the just over a year that it’s been in existence, the SPI Recycling Committee has already notched success after success in moving the needle on plastics recycling, and its EPS paper is the latest effort to prolong its winning streak. “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery” finds that “lack of awareness and infrastructure to support the collection of EPS has been cited as a significant barrier to expanding the collection of EPS products,” but that “having the right technology in place to support efficient collection and processing of EPS products is key to unlocking the recovery potential of these valuable materials.”

As such, the paper provides a primer to recyclers working domestically and internationally on what technologies are available to make EPS recycling possible and profitable. In addition to broadly discussing the EPS market and opportunities contained therein, “Unlocking the EPS Recovery Potential: Technologies Enabling Efficient Collection and Recovery” also includes a list, complete with information on equipment capacity and availability, of technologies recyclers can use to expand their EPS processing capability.

“Investing in technology to expand the recovery and processing of EPS can enable plastics recyclers to meet both an economic and environmental need,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux. “Increasing recycling rates for all types of PCR plastic materials is both good business and good corporate citizenship, and the SPI Recycling Committee continues to do an excellent job leveraging its unique position in SPI, and throughout the entire $374-billion plastics industry, to expand end-use opportunities for recycled plastics, including EPS.”

spi_logo_2000x1007Facts, figures and intelligence such as that contained within the Recycling Committee’s EPS report do more than just serve as valuable business tools for companies in the plastics industry. They also combat the misconceptions that keep plastic materials like EPS and others from being recycled. “People just don’t realize all the options in recycling that are out there,” said Jon Stephens, senior vice president of Avangard Innovative and chairman of the SPI Recycling Committee’s Technology and Equipment subcommittee. “Half the people don’t even know they can take their grocery bags back to the grocery store to be recycled. Once we can get this education piece out and promote recycling and let citizens know that they can recycle this material, more communities will collect it, keep it out of landfills, reduce the space and create a revenue stream for the product.”

“It’s a huge environmental benefit,” he added. “Like any other plastics packaging material, it does serve a purpose, if not for the plastics industry then for the food industry or for the packaging industry. It all serves a purpose.”

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Kids “Think Outside the Bag” for Recycling Program Expansion

New Program Designed to Help Flexible Film Recycling Go Mainstream

Consumers generally know that plastic bottles and packaging can be put in a blue bin, collected and recycled. For plastic bags and films, however, there’s an added step, as curbside pickup for these materials is not widespread.  Plastic film recycling requires consumers who live in jurisdictions without single-stream recycling to collect and bring these materials back to the grocery store where they most likely acquired them in the first place.

Returning these materials to where they came from isn’t an enormous burden, but it does contribute to low collection rates (along with the fact that plastic bags are also very likely to be reused, over and over again). Until technology advances in such a way that allows recyclers to sort this material with other more rigid plastic materials (and you can trust that the recycling industry is doing everything in its power to make that a reality) and pick it up curbside, this necessary step, wherein the consumer is both sorter and shipper, will be a part of the plastic film and bag recycling process. Presently, it’s estimated that only 12 percent of this material is recycled. That’s why SPI is working with JASON Learning and looking to kids for a fresh perspective.JASONLogo

The “Think Outside the Bag!” contest is the latest in SPI’s efforts to help promote and increase recycling, and was announced Monday by SPI, its Flexible Film and Bag Division (FFBD) and JASON Learning, a nonprofit organization managed by Sea Research Foundation, Inc. in partnership with the National Geographic Society. It asks students to come up with a creative campaign to increase recycling of flexible plastic film like dry cleaner bags, product wrapping and, of course, plastic grocery bags. “We each encounter flexible film plastic products in our everyday lives,” said SPI Vice President of Industry Affairs and FFBD Liaison Patty Long. “But this material too often ends up in the trash rather than on a truck back to a processor that can turn it back into something useful.”

spi_logo_2000x1007SPI and the entire plastics industry hopes that in the future plastic bag recycling is as routine a part of American life as curbside recycling, and that more of this material ends up at recycling plants than ends up in landfills, waterways or other venues. Losing plastic films and bags isn’t merely environmentally harmful, it’s also economically wasteful, and the entire industry doesn’t want any of it slipping through the cracks. “SPI, the FFBD and JASON are committed to increasing plastic film recycling and we want students to help us make sure none of these materials end up polluting our hometowns, our waterways and our beaches,” Long added.

The contest is another in a long line of the plastics industry’s efforts to increase recycling and use the industry’s expertise to solve environmental quandaries, fitting right in with Operation Clean Sweep, the Plastics Recycling Marketplace and the Zero Waste Zone at NPE2015. In terms of combining a focus on solutions with industry engagement, SPI and JASON Learning make logical partners for the contest. “At JASON we pride ourselves on connecting students with the real professionals working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to explore new frontiers and find new solutions to the problems threatening our environment,” said JASON Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Eleanor Smalley. “The ‘Think Outside the Bag!’ contest will teach students about the plastic film recycling process from some of the industry’s biggest players, and give them the opportunity to think critically about the challenges that keep these materials from getting recycled and how they can overcome them in their communities.”

More information and details for participating student groups are available here. SPI looks forward to seeing what students come up with, and to working with JASON and the next generation of consumers to close the loop on all plastics.