Friday, August 19th, 2016

A New Study May Make Conversations about Plastics Easier

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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, June 30th, 2016

How Will the Brexit Impact the U.S. Plastics Industry?

Brexit concept jigsaw puzzleBy Michael Taylor, Vice President, International Affairs and Trade, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association

The vote by 52 percent of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union—the so-called British exit (Brexit)—has sent shockwaves across global financial markets and ushered in a period of uncertainty for manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic. The vote could further undermine growth within Europe and potentially around the globe. Given the size of the U.S. economic relationship with Europe, the U.K. decision may have significant ramifications for the American plastics industry.

The U.S. commercial relationship with the U.K. and EU combined is the U.S.’ largest in the world, representing about 40 percent of the global economy. Trade of U.S.–EU manufactured goods reached $836 billion in 2015, and cross-border investment equaled more than $5 trillion. Many U.S. companies with EU operations have headquarters in London, and about 17 percent of U.S.-manufactured exports to the EU are destined for the U.K.

The U.K. is the 9th largest export market for the U.S. plastics industry representing more than $1.3 billion dollars in goods in 2015, and our 8th largest import market with more than $249 million dollars in goods in 2015. While the day-to-day operations of businesses in the United Kingdom, European Union or the United States may not be directly impacted by the Brexit immediately, all businesses engaged in the transatlantic market should prepare for the changes that are inevitably coming.

It’s expected that what the Brexit means for manufacturers in the United States and their partners in Europe won’t be fully known for years. Soon the United Kingdom will begin negotiations with the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union to set the terms of its withdrawal, a negotiation which some expect may take two years or more. Until the U.K. officially withdraws from the EU, it should be treated as an EU member state in trade for purposes of tariffs and other technical matters. Eventually, however, our trading relationship with the UK will experience increased costs and red tape after they have completely withdrawn from the EU. For U.K. manufacturers exporting into the EU, EU standards and regulations are expected to continue to apply for those goods to be eligible for sale, but much as they would normally apply to U.S. exports, rather than to exports from EU member companies.

Big Ben and Union Jack flag in England

Regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a major trade treaty currently being negotiated, it is clear that the Brexit vote will be a drag on the progress of the deliberations. Prior to the vote, it was apparent that the differences separating the United States and EU in the TTIP talks were larger than the areas of shared objectives and perspectives. With the U.K. and EU now preparing to enter into a multi-year withdrawal negotiation, there are serious questions as to whether the TTIP talks can result in a truly meaningful and comprehensive agreement or even any deal at all. In addition, the loss of the UK voice within the EU will likely make it even more difficult for a deal to be struck. On a positive note, there is the possibility of a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement, but this opportunity would still be years away at this point, and only be a fraction of the size of an ideal TTIP agreement with the entire EU.

All this said, although it is a significant event with notable economic consequences, the Brexit vote is unlikely to usher in a recession. It is very clear that all of the key players stand ready to intervene in the financial markets vigorously to buoy their economies as required. Specifically, in the U.S., the Federal Reserve will likely cut interest rates as opposed to raising them, counterbalancing any negative investment consequences the Brexit might have in the near-term for U.S. stakeholders.

But the causal relationship between political and economic uncertainty and negative market and trade consequences is well established. The Brexit will most likely have impacts akin to past Eurozone crises, at least in the short term. It will shake financial markets and consumer confidence, cause a majority of business decision-makers to hedge and serve as an unwelcome drag on economic growth and demand.

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Plastics Industry Welcomes First Bipartisan TSCA Update in 40 Years

BillC 2015 NEW USE THIS

SPI President and CEO William Carteaux

Earlier this week the Senate approved a much-needed update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The bill is now headed to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature. Here’s what SPI President and CEO William Carteaux, had to say about the first substantive update to TSCA in four decades:

“The U.S. plastics industry and its partners have worked tirelessly with multiple Congresses and administrations to make our nation’s outdated chemical regulatory infrastructure stronger and more responsive to the needs of today’s consumers and companies.

Today those efforts have paid off in the form of bipartisan legislation marking the first substantive update to the Toxic Substances Control Act in four decades.

CongressSunriseViewThis consensus-based bill is the product of thoughtful discussions by House and Senate negotiators.  It gives consumers the confidence in the products they depend upon each day, while giving companies a more predictable regulatory system that’s based on science rather than rhetoric.  The plastics industry also applauds lawmakers for ensuring that the new bill provides for the preservation of confidential business information, ensuring that the growth this bill is certain to unlock won’t be jeopardized.

This is a great day for the U.S. plastics industry and its nearly one million workers and their families. We look forward to continuing to grow the American economy by manufacturing the safest, strongest and most technologically advanced products and materials.”

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

A Day of Firsts: SPI Does the Iowa Caucus

By Mark Garrison, Senior Vice President, Membership and Business Development, SPI

This is my first blog—ever. There were a lot of firsts for me on the day of the Iowa caucuses. First time in Des Moines, first time to attend a caucus, first time to attend a presidential candidate’s primary after-party, and the first time I rode in a Bentley. More on the Bentley later.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

SPI hosts several regional events throughout the country. All are open (at no cost) to both members and non-members. However, this is one was a little different. Our member host, i2tech, also known as Innovative Injection Technologies, certainly made an event for the ages.  It was unique right from the start. Those of us who were able to come in the night before were treated to a production of “Caucus – The Musical.” Two hours of political fun and hilarity. The actor who played Ronald Blunt (aka Trump), should be nominated for a Tony award.  The funny one-liners came so fast, I honestly can’t remember my favorite one.

Our event hosts, Bob and Josh Janeczko, planned out a very busy caucus day.  We started with a plant tour of the i2tech facility.  I2tech is a custom injection molder, with 31 molding machines.  The largest being a 3300 ton Milacron. Some of their customers include John Deere, Arctic Cat, Dee Zee and Kongsberg. After the tour, Jennifer Jacobs, chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register (and also, Bob’s daughter), spoke to our group and brought us up to “political speed” on the events that were about to unfold during the caucuses later that evening.

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Jennifer Jacobs, politics reporter for the Des Moines Register, talking to SPI.

After dinner and some networking, we were off to see a caucus event. Most people are accustomed to pulling a lever behind a closed curtain. I wanted to witness a Democratic caucus because it is the exact opposite. The democrats in Iowa do things in a very public way when they caucus, persuading the undecided voters and competing candidate voters to literally come over to their side of room before the final head count   is taken and votes are final. We heard many impassioned speeches. And most were well thought out. However, my favorite speech of the night actually had very little substance, which is probably why I liked it so much. It was from a Clinton voter trying to convince an undecided voter that he should caucus with them. His exact words were “you need to vote for Hillary because Hillary looks so much better in person than on TV.” I doubt that was the right approach, as I watched that undecided voter get up and head straight over to Bernie Sanders’ side of the room.

With the caucus behind us and the night still young, our group headed downtown to see what candidate after-party we could crash.  As it turns out, crashing one of these parties really isn’t all that hard.  Simply show up, sign in, provide an email address and before you know it, you’re standing in the middle of the Marriott ballroom with several hundred excited supporters waiting for Marco Rubio to show up and give a speech. I guess I was excited to be there as well because I posted on social media what I was up to. Not long after my post, I received a text during the middle of Rubio’s speech. Apparently the back of my head made it on TV when the camera scanned the crowd. I guess I’m famous now.

The end to my evening was a ride back to my hotel in a Bentley. A Bentley! There is no better way to end a great day than a ride in a Bentley. Thanks again Bob and Josh at i2Tech! Can we do it again in four years?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Snowzilla: No Match for Plastics

MiaHeadshotBy Mia Freis Quinn, SPI Vice President of Communications

I thought we’d be losing our minds by now, Day 6 of Snowzilla, the blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. area.

But we’re not, somehow?  How is that?  My husband, our two young sons and I are (literally) digging the mountains of snow outside.  What went right during this storm for us?  The top 6 highlights:

1. Good Food.  We didn’t just stock up for this storm, we finally got it right and did it well.  Two of everything.  Brie.  But also salad.  Good wine.  Ingredients for our favorite recipes.  And, our Blue Apron box arrived two days before the storm.  We were hardly slapping together PB & J’s to get through; we were indulging in cod & potato brandade.

SnowzillaFood2. Sleds!  Sledding!  These plastic beauties delivered.  One neighborhood kid created a “luge” track for our block in his front yard, which my son must have gone down 30 times (while the adults enjoyed beverages around a fire pit).

SnowzillaSledAt four months in to my tenure at SPI, I find I’m way more aware of how much and how often plastic touches my life. And during this storm plastic was everywhere – all four of our shovels (especially prominent in the kids’ shovels), the sleds, our snowball makers, our boot trays, and other essential items, which brings me to…

3. Extra Insulation.  My biggest worry was that we’d lose power and freeze in our drafty house (we don’t have a fireplace).  So Friday morning I hit the hardware store and bought electric outlet sealers, window insulation and insulating tape.  All brought to you by…plastic.

4. Open-ended Play.  Santa brought my boys a plastic set of sticks and connectors that’s a fort-builder’s dream.  And every snow day needs a good fort.

SnowzillaFort

Other all-star entertainment items include our ever-reliable Magnatiles, Playmobil and Legos.  And keeping it uber-simple – the Costco bag of red solo cups – hours of building.  Again, all brought to you by…plastics.

SnowzillaCups

5. The Denver Broncos.  My hometown team, led by Peyton Manning, came through against the Patriots this weekend, and the victory was sweet! Fellow Broncos fans in our neighborhood shoveled themselves out, converged in our living room, and we all dined on Cincinnati Chili in homage to my husband’s fallen Bengals.

6. No Milk Panic.  Tip:  For all you who have declared during a storm “We’ve already run out of milk!  Now what!?” – buy several containers of organic milk next time.  The expiration dates are ridiculous!  You could stockpile it and be hunkered down for a few months.

Have there been some rough moments?  You bet. At one point this chili my neighbor left in my fridge fell out and crashed to the ground. I wish she’d used a plastic container.

SnowzillaChili