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.

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

A Different Kind of Conversation: SPI Member Kenrich to Introduce New Compatibilizer at NPE2015 that Gets Mixed Resin Streams “Talking to Each Other”

NPE_logoCompatibilizers: hard to say three times fast, but a remarkably simple concept. These items make two or more typically incompatible substances compatible.

Long used in the prime resin industry to create special blends that give plastic materials desirable properties that any individual polymer would lack on its own, compatibilizers get resins that would not neatly blend together to “talk to each other,” as it were. Companies continue to explore new applications for compatibilizers in the recycling industry, where at least one SPI member is trying to start a similar sort of conversation between mixed recycled resin streams.

At NPE2015, SPI member, and member of the SPI Recycling Committee’s Technology and Equipment Subcommittee, Kenrich Petrochemicals (Booth #S20027) will introduce a new additive that can be used to recycle the mixed resin streams that are increasingly posing challenges to the world’s recyclers. The long name for the compatibilizer is Ken-React® CAPS ® KPR ® 12/LV Pellets, and KPR for short; it regenerates post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic mixtures in the extruder melt and gives them virgin resin-like properties, all while getting dissimilar polymers to talk to one another.

Here’s some more technical information from Kenrich President Salvatore Monte, who invented KPR, about how the additive can be put to good use: “Normally—although polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are both considered olefins—HDPE cannot accept more than 5 percent PP without creating incompatibility issues. Add a third polymer and it really gets complicated.” The KPR® additive pellet can help make these issues disappear, which could provide a huge benefit to recyclers who, in an age of widening “single stream” recycling procedures, frequently have to handle various types of plastic materials that may be present in a recycling feedstream, or even in a single product. KPR® aims to change that.

“Conventional discussions on recycled plastic center around equipment that sorts, cleans, demagnetizes, washes, granulates, bales or melt processes recycling—or polymer compatibilizers based on maleic anhydride chemistry or bipolar thermoplastics that have affinity for two select recycle polymer streams,” Monte continued, referring to other additives with fewer potential applications than KPR. “Our new KPR® catalyst causes multiple polymers of divergent chemistry to repolymerize in the melt to form not alloys, but new complex co-polymers having much higher mechanical properties.”

SPI and its Recycling Committee have repeatedly urged plastics manufacturers and brand owners to consider PCR when making their materials decisions, for its sustainability bona fides and contributions to SPI’s goal of helping the industry achieve zero waste in manufacturing, among other things to recommend it. But part of what makes some companies reluctant to use PCR for all their plastic needs is that, in the process of being ZWZlogoWeb2used and recycled, the plastic materials themselves lose some of the properties that make them desirable for use in consumer plastic products. However, compatibilizer manufacturers, like Kenrich, are attempting to offer a unique solution to the problem, by making it easier for recyclers to produce higher-quality materials from lower-quality bales.

“It’s a new way to look at PCR and achieve high loadings of PCR in virgin polymers to meet sustainability mandates in consumer plastic packaging products such as blow-molded soap bottles,” Monte said.

Learn more about Kenrich at NPE2015 and more about new recycling technologies and SPI and its Recycling Committee’s efforts to achieve zero waste at the Zero Waste Zone.

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

SPI, Dart Container Offer Recycling Exit Strategy for EPS Plastic Foam Materials

For Dart, a leading manufacturer of single-use foodservice material, among numerous other plastic products, New York City’s decision to ban plastic foam has raised questions, but hasn’t weakened their resolve to correct some of the most pernicious myths about this material.

“We’re still talking about it and determining our next steps,” said Christine Cassidy, recycling manager at Dart Container. “Dart is one of the leading manufacturers of single-use foodservice material and about half of it is foam. We also manufacture paper, rigid plastic and compostable products. If we’re sending it out to customers we want to make sure they have outlets to recover it at the end of the day,” she said.

This commitment to providing end-of-life opportunities for their products doesn’t prevent legislatures like New York’s from acting rashly, or, given the city council’s central assertion, from acting on false information. “A lot of people say it can’t be recycled, like New York did,” Cassidy said, “but that is not true.”

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

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

SPI’s Recycling Committee continually aims to combat falsehoods about plastic materials and their recyclability. But in addition to campaigning against misinformation, like the kind on which New York based its EPS ban, the Recycling Committee works to make recycling easier, and more widespread. Most recently it contributed to this effort with its EPS Recycling Equipment Guide, which offers materials recovery facilities (MRFs) across the country a useful tool for purchasing the equipment they need to make EPS recycling a part of their operations.

“It’s not too much equipment,” Cassidy said, offering a counterpoint to EPS recycling opponents who argue that the process is too expensive or too complicated for EPS recycling to go mainstream. The more widespread this equipment becomes at MRFs nationwide, the more easily this material can be recycled through curbside programs, Cassidy added. “With something like curbside recycling, you can add EPS into the bins and it’ll get collected just like paper, plastic and glass, and it’s sorted just like all those other materials at the MRF,” she said, noting that “NYC found adding EPS to their recycling program would not increase mileage or routes on their collection trucks. Haulers typically operate using a certain amount of weight as a threshold. Once a truck has accumulated enough weight, they have to trek to the MRF and drop off what they have. “With foam it’s lightweight so it is able to travel in the unused space on the truck,” Cassidy said. “EPS is only 1 percent of the waste stream.” Like other material bans elsewhere in the country, the good intentions of policymakers don’t exactly translate into real environmental benefits. For example, New York’s ban on foam only applies to foodservice foam, meaning takeout containers and things of that nature, but not egg cartons or meat trays, or the type of foam used to package electronics. “Those aren’t part of the ban,” Cassidy said. “It’s a small fraction of what foam is out there.”

This is an important point. While proponents like the simplicity of material bans, it’s hard to consider them a success when so much material still ends up going to the landfill, rather than to a recycling facility. “They’re really not accomplishing much with the ban,” Cassidy deadpanned. “If they really wanted to do something meaningful, they should have accepted the offer to have it recycled.”

Public education is a great deal of the battle for Dart, and for SPI’s Recycling Committee. “I find that many people do not understand the benefits of foam or that it can be recycled. They usually do not have an alternative once they ban it. Compostable cups are an alternative only if public composting is available and consumer dispose of it in the right way. If not, it is just going to a landfill.” Cassidy said. “You’re saying ban a product that Dart is willing to help the city and municipality recycle, in order to go to a product that you’re going to send to the landfill.”

Laws like New York’s never seem to think beyond the ban; they don’t provide an exit strategy for the material that inevitably comes to take the place when plastic materials are no longer allowed. “If you ban it, what are you going to do with the replacements?” Cassidy said. “Right now many communities don’t have a solution.” All the excitement about material bans seems to drown out that fact; in the long run, whatever material is banned needs to be replaced by something. People won’t start drinking coffee straight from the pot just because they can’t find an EPS cup. The only real solution that provides a plan for what to do with all of these materials at the end of their usefulness is recycling or composting. “New York City only banned a minority of the foam in the city, and they’re landfilling the majority of it,” Cassidy said. “If they went with a recycling program, they’d be able to recycle 100 percent.”

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.