Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Legislative Recap: A Big Two Weeks for Plastics on Capitol Hill

The last two weeks have seen big developments on Capitol Hill, particularly for the $380-billion U.S. plastics industry. Below is a quick recap of the legislative shifts and successes that have been on SPI’s radar for the last two weeks:

-TSCA Reform Approved in the House of Representatives

After 40 years (!), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is closer now than it’s ever been to getting a much-needed update. In a 398-1 vote, the House approved H.R. 2576, the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 on June 23. “The world is a different place than it was when the Toxic Substances Control Act was first enacted in 1976,” said SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux in a statement issued after the vote. “The plastics industry has seen amazing growth and transformation in size and sophistication over the last four decades, but TSCA has remained largely unchanged. By approving H.R. 2576, the House of Representatives has taken a big step in the right direction, toward a regulatory regime that protects consumers without making the plastics industry comply with regulations that are redundant or based on outdated science.” Read the full statement here.

-Trade Promotion Authority Clears its Final Hurdle

A day after TSCA reform was approved in the House, and after one failed vote in the House and some behind-the-scenes legislative wrangling, Congress approved “fast track” or trade promotion authority (TPA), a critical step toward a strong, robust Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), among other trade deals that stand to be lucrative for U.S. plastics companies. “TPA will also make it easier for trade negotiators to reach other important free trade agreements (FTAs) that have the potential to further increase exports of U.S. goods. The U.S. only has 20 FTA partners currently, but they purchase a disproportionately high percentage of U.S. goods,” Carteaux said in a statement. “In 2014 these 20 countries received 47 percent of U.S. exports, worth a total of $765 billion according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. Furthermore the plastics sector enjoys a trade surplus of $20.6 billion with America’s existing FTA partner countries. Clearly, FTAs are good for U.S. manufacturing and for the U.S. plastics industry, and TPA will enable the U.S. to expedite more of them in the future.”

-Senate Approves Transportation Bill, SPI Urges Quick Action from the House

Before TSCA and TPA, the Senate approved, by unanimous consent, S. 808, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2015. Specifically the bill aims to strengthen the STB by giving it the tools and flexibility to operate more efficiently as the economic watchdog of the nation’s rail shipping system. SPI and a coalition of other organizations applauded the approval. “Today, most shippers lack access to competitive rail service, and as a result railroad shipping rates have surged over the last decade, rising nearly three times as fast as inflation and trucking rates,” Carteaux said. “Accordingly, this has resulted in an increase in the number, cost and complexity of rate disputes. In its current state, the STB is ill-equipped to handle these developments, but the modest reforms in S. 808 go a long way toward fixing this problem by strengthening the STB and eliminating many of the inefficiencies that have hampered its ability to ensure competitive, sensible rail service to the nation’s plastics manufacturers. A stronger STB would help ensure that plastic materials and products can be shipped efficiently to both domestic and international markets.” Read the full statement here.

Stay tuned to SPI’s home page, Twitter feed and blog for future updates on any and all plastics-relevant legislative developments.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Moving Beyond What’s Easy: Compatibilizer Report from SPI Aims to Improve Quality of Recycled Plastics, Enhance Chemical Skill Set throughout Recycling Value Chain

Plastic scrapThe plastics recycling industry presently faces an environment of lower bale quality and lower yields. It also faces increasing demand for post-consumer recycled material, right at a time when providing that material is especially complicated and costly. Rather than waiting around for bale quality to increase on its own (or for MRFs to place a greater priority on better sorting), recyclers need to become more sophisticated in order to adjust their operations to suit a new normal.

The problem of processing contaminated materials like bales of mixed multi-layer consumer plastic packaging is a chemical one, and so it makes sense to attempt to address it with a chemical solution. But chemistry, at least at the moment, isn’t a strong suit for most recyclers. “SPI is supported by polymer, additive, and machinery makers,” said Sal Monte, president of Kenrich Petrochemicals, a member of SPI’s Recycling Committee. “There are hundreds of different kinds of polymers/processes and their subset applications that all have different functions and market applications, but the recyclers who collect that plastic until recently have not had to operate at that level.”

“Most of the guys who deal with recycle are not chemists,” he added. “If they want to make useful parts that give recycled plastic a second life on a first-tier level, recyclers are going to have to become more knowledgeable about polymer material science.”

compatibilizers-whitepaper-coverEducation and innovation are key to raising the bar for the entire recycling value chain, and a new report, titled “Compatibilizers: Creating New Opportunity for Mixed Plastics,” is the SPI Recycling Committee’s latest attempt to challenge recyclers to move beyond what’s easy and push the entire recycling value chain forward in a way that yields new applications and new value for mixed post-consumer recycled plastics.

Broadly speaking, compatibilizers are additives that get incompatible polymers to “talk” to one another. They’ve historically been used successfully in both the prime resin industry and in the post-industrial plastics recycling arena to increase the value of bales comprised of select mixed polymers, but their use in the post-consumer world has been limited. That’s what the Recycling Committee’s report aims to change. It introduces readers and recyclers to the opportunities these additives present to their business, and to the economic imperative these companies have to find new solutions in a world where the process of recycling plastic materials is only getting more and more complicated.

“Recent findings suggest HDPE recyclers are suffering a 20-percent yield loss, while their PET recycling counterparts are experiencing upwards of 40-percent yield loss,” the report says. “This rate of material loss can quickly change the economics of an operation from black to red. If that yield loss could be put to use as another valuable feed stream, it can dramatically change the economics of an operation, as well as further divert valuable plastics from the landfill.” Compatibilizers are one option recyclers can consider in their efforts enhance their profits while meeting their sustainability goals.

They can also enable the right recyclers with the right expertise to find new markets for their materials by allowing them to impart more desirable qualities to the recycled resin they produce. Incompatible polymers that are recycled can’t be used practically since they delaminate during melt processing such as injection molding to make a PCR containing plastic product. Virgin polymers are also chain scissored during melt processing, giving the resultant post-consumer recycled resin lesser mechanical properties when compared to virgin resin. This limits these materials’ usage in all kinds of applications requiring performance specification polymers.

In essence, compatibilizers enable resins that would not otherwise neatly blend into a useful melt of plastic materials to mix in such a way that the recycled resins acquire greater performance qualities than if the compatibilizer hadn’t been included. They have the potential to give streams of recycled plastic the qualities they require to be more useful, if not as useful as their virgin forefathers, and therefore much more valuable. “The use of compatibilizers is being explored increasingly in the recycling industry as a way to create value in mixed feed streams that cannot be further segregated by resin type, either due to technical challenges related to collecting, cleaning and sorting, or economic infeasibility,” the report observes.

There’s a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” simplicity to using compatibilizers to enhance the value of recycled materials—if you can’t fix bale quality, find a way to make bale quality matter less. But post-consumer recycling isn’t getting simpler; it’s getting more and more complex. To succeed in this environment, the recycling industry has to become more, not less, sophisticated. The Recycling Committee’s report is geared toward challenging recyclers to take their first step in that direction.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

SPI Recognizes CPR for Its Outstanding Performance as the Official Recycler of NPE2015

NPE2015 ended nearly three months ago but SPI continues to recognize all of the parties that helped make this year’s international plastics showcase the largest, most international and most sustainable NPE in history. Recently SPI CEO and President Bill Carteaux and VP of Member Services Mark Garrison visited the Tampa, Fla.-based offices of Commercial Plastics Recycling, Inc. (CPR) to present the company and its team with a plaque recognizing them for their partnership and performance during NPE2015.



During the show, which ran from March 23-27 in Orlando, Fla., CPR collected, sorted and recycled an astounding 191 tons of processing scrap, 62 percent more than was collected at NPE2012 and 235 percent more than at NPE2009. Altogether NPE2015 generated 518 tons of waste at the Orange County Convention Center, including both processing scrap and post-consumer waste. Of that, 452 tons, or 87 percent, was recycled.

SPI thanks CPR for its outstanding work during NPE2015 and looks forward to relying on the company’s insights to make the next NPE (NPE2018) an even greater success!

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.

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Telling the Plastics Industry’s Story through…Food Packaging Compliance?

SPI’s Project Passport aims to make life easier for brand owners, plastics manufacturers and materials suppliers and is part of an open discussion about science, industry and consumer safety.

FoodPackaging_StockPhotoBrand owners are often correctly viewed as the conduit through which the consumer speaks to the rest of the plastics supply chain. The crazy, upside-down world in which they operate is a demanding one, where information is more available than ever before, and yet confusion continues to run rampant throughout the supply chain, starting with consumers, particularly when it comes to something as ubiquitous as the packaging in which their food is stored.

“The public is understandably confused by the conflicting messages they receive about product safety,” said Kyra Mumbauer, SPI senior director, global regulatory affairs, “and when people  get confused about the safety of the packaging their food comes in, they typically ask the brand owner, whose name is on the package itself, who then asks the manufacturer, who then asks the materials supplier before an answer is finally provided.”

Many of these requests for information go beyond what’s required from a regulatory standpoint, which only complicates the process for diligent materials suppliers and plastics manufacturers that are doing their best to assuage the concerns of their customers. “There may not be a common level of education about what is required from a regulatory standpoint,” Mumbauer said. “But if everyone that has to convey their compliance information has a baseline, then that will lead to a reduction in the number of redundant or unnecessary questions that get asked.”

For brand owners seeking information from their suppliers about the compliance of materials that went into their packaging products, the practical aspects of acquiring and sorting this information can be daunting. At the very least they’re an unnecessary time drain. “You can get 13 different letters from your suppliers that look totally different,” Mumbauer said. “It can be really time consuming and there’s no simple way to organize those documents.”

At least, there wasn’t until now.

2015-project-psspt-4cProject Passport, the latest resource from SPI’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) seeks to provide “a more consistent approach to communicating vital compliance information to customers and consumers in a way that’s clear, complete and easy on the eyes.” In its current form, Project Passport’s Guideline for Risk Communication for the Global Food Contact Supply Chain is comprised of three separate components, each of which offers packaging suppliers a key tool to help them communicate the safety of their products to companies and consumers further down the food packaging supply chain:

  • An Example “Food Contact Declaration of Compliance” Form – The form is generic by design so that it can be adapted to different products marketed in various jurisdictions.
  • Instructions – These basic explanations and sample customer assurance statements provide the context to help companies complete the form quickly and effectively.
  • Quick Guides – A series of topical guides is interspersed throughout the document on select topics to provide added clarity on the instructions.

These tools will make it easier for brand owners to make sense of what goes into their packaging products, while simultaneously making it easier for companies to sell their products globally by preemptively addressing the compliance concerns of their potential customers. “New regulatory affairs professionals marketing a product globally can look at this and see what they need to be conveying to their customers,” Mumbauer said, noting that Project Passport currently is designed to address the needs of U.S. and European Union regulatory authorities, and that while complying with these two jurisdictions typically qualifies a product for sale in most countries in the world, as participation increases, Project Passport will continue to expand as well. “By promoting wide adoption of this form and this guideline we’ll have a more consistent approach to communicating information,” she said.