Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Arizona Plastic-Bag Bill a Necessary Step toward Limiting Needlessly Burdensome Regulatory Complexity

FPA_2012_winner-Hilex-Poly-KrogerLast year the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) estimated that the federal regulatory compliance burden for U.S. manufacturing companies exceeds $2 trillion on an annual basis. That’s a staggering figure on its own, but it pales in comparison to what the total eventually would be if every company had to comply with standards, laws and regulations that varied from locality to locality.

The last Census estimated that there were just over 77,000 local governments in the U.S. (excl. school districts). If the cost of compliance for manufacturers is $2 trillion now, what would it be if every one of those local governments grafted their own regulatory scheme on top of what’s already present at the state and federal levels?

Encouraging new opportunities for manufacturing growth in this country will require our legislators to think not merely of taxes, but of new regulations as well. “America’s regulatory framework is in need of a serious reboot,” SPI President and CEO William Carteaux said in the wake of the NAM report. “Comprehensive reform is necessary to allow the nation’s manufacturers to grow their businesses, hire more workers and keep America competitive abroad.”

“A modern regulatory regime based on scientific, technological and economic realities, rather than outdated facts, emotion and hearsay, will ensure the safety of workers, consumers and the environment while still fostering the innovation and job growth that manufacturing is poised to unleash,” he added.

Tailoring this regime to create adequate protections for individuals without overburdening manufacturers with redundancies, needless complications and laws based on bad science will require thoughtful analysis, enactment and implementation, not the broad-stroke, more-is-always-more approach that seems to be popular among so many activists. To this point, Arizona Senate Bill 1241, signed into law this week by Gov. Doug Ducey, is a small but meaningful victory in the battle against baseless overregulation and arbitrary statutes that make compliance a minefield for businesses.Bag2Bag-in-store-160w

By ensuring that the authority to regulate packaging and auxiliary containers rests in state capitols and not in the hands of local governments, SB 1241 certifies that businesses will have to comply with only one set of regulations in Arizona, rather than 432 different sets: one for each local government in the state (excl. school districts). It’s a pro-business bill that precludes the creation of a patchwork of new regulations. More than that, by heading off potential regulatory threats, businesses can plan for the future without worrying that new, increasingly segmented regulations could inhibit them. SB 1241 is a sign that Arizona understands how important that certainty is to business when making investments and moving forward. By providing that certainty, they’ve made it easier for companies to concentrate more on growing their business and creating jobs and less on future compliance challenges. Hopefully other states will follow in Arizona’s footsteps.

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, 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.”

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.”